Cime abissali. Le opinioni del signor Giuliano Dal Mas, dilettante di scalate sugli specchi

(Lettera aperta di Carlo Vitali all’Accademico Feraspe)

Caro Feraspe,

a quanto gentilmente mi hai comunicato, un certo Giuliano Dal Mas – che mi si dice essere un alpinista prestato alla musicologia – ha di recente elargito al mondo di YouTube  ( queste sue perle di dottrina:



Ti confesso, o Feraspe, la mia ripugnanza ad entrare in discussione con una persona che non mi è stata presentata socialmente, ma diciamo che se costui mi facesse pervenire un suo biglietto da visita nelle mie ore di ricevimento, questo è più o meno quanto vorrei dirgli:

Approfitto della Sua generosa offerta di dettagli, egregio signor Dal Mas, e Le domando: le Sue informazioni derivano dal libricciuolo autoprodotto dei Signori Bianchini e Trombetta (L’aria della Contessa, 2008), oppure sono frutto di ricerche personali? Nel secondo caso La sollecito a pubblicarne i risultati in una sede scientificamente accreditata. Nel primo, Le copio qui sotto una breve recensione del medesimo volumetto firmata dal Prof. Neal Zaslaw, di cui immagino Lei conosca la chiara fama e le pubblicazioni nel campo degli studi mozartiani. Vorrei credere che Lei, egregio Dal Mas, possa dimostrare il possesso di analoghe qualifiche, ma me ne fa dubitare la Sua confusione tra il pittore Jacopo Da Ponte detto “Il Bassano” (1510-1592) e Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), il librettista di Mozart.

Purtroppo nel campo della scienza non vige il principio democratico “la mia opinione vale quanto la tua”; e la Sua, egregio Signore, mi sembra quella di un chiacchierone male informato e pure – mi consenta di opinare a mia volta – tanto apodittico nei toni quanto inesperto nell’uso della punteggiatura. Concordo peraltro sulla Sua affermazione: “non faccio parte dell’Accademia della Bufala”. E come potrebbe, visto che della Bufala Lei è parte integrante e strenuo propagandista? Sempre disposto a ricredermi quando mi si offra la prova del contrario, La lascio ora in compagnia del Prof. Zaslaw e delle sue stringenti critiche, di fatto e di metodo, alle “scoperte” dei Signori Bianchini e Trombetta:

[…] The principle is simple: if something is repeated often enough, backed up by unverifiable but seemingly plausible evidence, it becomes a “fact” and is forever after out there causing problems. In the present case, for instance, the perpetrators of the Figaro nonsense have insinuated their ideas into Wikipedia…

Of course Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro was a Singspiel! At that time, any Italian, all-sung opera which was successful in one or more of the cosmopolitan opera houses in German-speaking Europe was likely to be turned into a Singspiel for the provincial theaters, with German spoken dialogue replacing the recitativo secco and the arias, ensembles and recitativo accompagnato translated into German. Don Giovanni, for example, circulated in four different German translations during the 1790s and beyond. Many places didn’t have singers trained for Italian opera nor audiences who understood Italian. The same was done in German-speaking regions for French opéra comique (Grétry was the most popular composer), which already had spoken dialogue that could be translated along with the musical numbers. The Singspiel versions of Figaro came after the original Italian version, not before it.

The passage from Niemetschek (there is, by the way, a perfectly good English translation of Niemetschek’s German original, so no need to mistranslate from an Italian translation) says exactly that. The dates and places of their performances, and the survival of the relevant scores, librettos, etc., are all well documented in the (serious) Mozart literature. Anyone who wishes to see a list of the performances, city by city, can look in Alfred Loewenberg’s Annals of Opera, which was first published in the 1940s and has since been republished at least twice. Loewenberg’s listing can’t possibly be complete either, but the man certainly did his homework. Now it is true that in 1785 (very soon after it was “unbanned,” performed and published in Paris) Beaumarchais’ play (not Da Ponte’s reworking of it) was staged in several German cities. The following list is simply what I could gather in about 5 minutes of searching:

Der lustige Tag, oder, Figaro’s Hochzeit; ein Lustspiel in 5 Aufzügen

[The Merry Day, or Figaro’s Marriage, a comedy in 5 acts]

by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

German libretto,192 p.: music; 20 cm.

Berlin: Johann Friedrich Unger.

[Same title]

Translated by Ludwig Ferdinand Huber.

“Aechte, vom Herrn Verfasser einzig und allein genehmigte, vollständige Ausgabe!”

German libretto 59, [1], 216 p. ; 20 cm.

Kehl: J. G. Müller, ältern.

Der tolle Tag oder Figaro’s Hochzeit: ein Lustspiel in fünf Aufzügen

[The Crazy Day, or Figaro’s Marriage, a comedy in 5 acts]

By Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

Translated from the 8th French edition by Ludwig Ferdinand Huber

German libretto [2] Bl., LXIV[i.e. XLVI], 140 S., [1] Bl : Frontispiz ; 8.

Dessau & Leipzig: Göschen.

If I recall correctly […], Emperor Joseph II banned the acting of a German translation of the play but allowed it to be printed. It’s been some years since I last read Beaumarchais’ play, and I’ve never done a detailed study of what its first production was like, but a 5-act comedy performed at the Comédie française in the 1780s would most likely have called for an overture (in a pinch, almost any overture or suitable symphony movement would do), some entr’acte music (ditto), some dances (lots of them around) and settings of whatever songs were built into the play. Such music may have come along with the text of the play from Paris, or it could easily have been provided by a local Kapellmeister for a German theater. Note that the first of these three German playbooks cited above contains tunes. A serious researcher might actually want to have a look at those tunes…

A very few principles of logic and of historical research: Nothing can be proved by citing a lack of evidence. Nothing! Ockham’s (Occam’s) razor: if two explanations seem to accommodate the known facts, always favor the simpler one. This will by no means always yield a correct answer, but it can help to avoid a lot of unnecessary nonsense.

Edward Dent was an admired writer, critic and professor of music at Oxford. His book was published in 1947. One can still read it for its attitudes, opinions and critical discussions, but not for a full mustering of factual information. First of all, it’s not that kind of book. More importantly, 60 years of subsequent research are ignored by using Dent’s book as a source for factual information. This is called cherry-picking – or is it ignorance? – or deceit? Please let this stand for many other inappropriate uses of primary and secondary source materials. Alan Tyson must be rolling over in his grave.

Documents cited ought to make sense. I don’t have the time or stomach to look into the Frankfurt playbill, but why it would have been printed in Bonn is somewhat mysterious. Much more mysterious, however, is that fact that a French comedy translated into German might be bilingual in some of its characteristics, but why in the world would the characters be named and explained in an unholy mixture of French, German and Italian. The answer is: they most probably wouldn’t be. But let us suppose that such a playbill exists (perhaps it does). It cannot be used as evidence for conclusions or hypotheses of any kind unless it can be understood and explained – “close reading” in English, “explication du texte” in French, “critica del testo” in Italian, “Die Textkritik” in German. This can be done well or poorly – everyone makes mistakes and overlooks or misunderstands things – but it must be done, and done in good faith.

Neal Zaslaw

N.B.: Sempre su Bianchini, Trombetta e Dal Mas si veda l’articolo Ahimè ch’io cado, n. 107: Lassù sulle montagne… di Michele Girardi comparso il 28 ottobre 2017.