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When you realize that this work came from the pen of someone who was, as Rodgers and Hammerstein might say, ‘Sixteen going on seventeen’, it is truly amazing.
The sheer combination of youth involved in the composition and premiere of Exsultate, jubilate completely belies the sound of the work. To many, it’s the sound of a genius at the peak of his powers, harnessing some of the finest slices of his imagination with aplomb and wisdom.
The man – yes, man – for whom Mozart wrote it, Venanzio Rauzzini, had a good ten years on the composer. He was the Italian soprano castrato of choice for the musical chattering classes of Milan. The composer and performer had been flung together to produce Mozart’s early opera, Lucio Silla, in which Rauzzini starred. The singer would eventually, after a couple more adulatory years wowing them in Italy, move permanently to the unlikely destination of Bath, living largely off his reputation by teaching and mounting subscription concerts.
Today, Exsultate, jubilate is rarely (if ever) sung by a castrato, but is a favourite of female sopranos the world over, especially its final-movement Alleluia in which Mozart sets to music just that one word.
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano); London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Colin Davis (conductor). Philips: 4128732.
Illustration: Mark Millington