The Art of the Ensemble Opera: A Comparative Study of the Uses of Ensemble in 1790s Vienna Through W.A. Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Domenico Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto
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Ensembles have become iconic of the eighteenth-century opera buffa. Previous studies have focused their efforts on form, analyzing ensembles with instrumental structures. However, these forms do not provide information as to how ensemble texts are set musically or function in terms of drama. This study follows Ronald Rabin’s dissertation research on opera buffa performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna between 1783 and 1791. Rabin asserts an ‘ensemble principle’, explaining the broad form of buffa ensembles. This study focuses on the ensembles of two Viennese works: W.A. Mozart’s Così fan tutte (1790) and Domenico Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792). Using Rabin’s ‘ensemble principle’ as a foundation, a close reading of each ensemble from these two works reveals that these composers took very different approaches to ensemble writing. By sticking to or straying from conventions, Mozart and Cimarosa made musical choices that enhance character relationships and drama in diverse ways.