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Happening to know that the little Mozart was much taken notice of by Manzoli, the famous singer, who came over to England in 1764, I said to the boy that I should be glad to hear an extemporary Love Song, such as his friend Manzoli might choose in an opera. The boy on this (who continued to sit at his harpsichord) looked back with much archness, and immediately began five or six lines of a jargon recitative proper to introduce a love song.
He then played a symphony [introduction] which might correspond with an air composed to the single word, Affetto. It had a first and a second part, which, together with the symphonies, was of the length that opera songs generally last; if this extemporary composition was not amazingly capital, yet it showed the most extraordinary readiness of invention.
Finding that he was in humour, and as it were inspired, I then desired him to compose a Song of Rage, such as might be proper for the opera stage. The boy again looked back with much archness, and began five or six lines of a jargon recitative proper to precede a Song of Anger. This lasted also about the same time as the Song of Love, and in the middle of it he had worked himself up to such a pitch that he beat his harpsichord like a person possessed, rising sometimes in his chair. The word he pitched upon for this second extemporary composition was Perfido!
The text of Va, dal furor portata is taken from Metastasio’s Ezio, which Mozart had probably seen at The King’s Theatre in the autumn of 1764 in a ‘pasticcio’ setting which incorporated music by such composers as Vento, Pescetti, De Majo, Galuppi and J C Bach, but no record survives of the aria having been performed during Mozart’s lifetime.
Prior to the London version, Metastasio’s libretto for Ezio had already been set by numerous composers, including Handel and Gluck. It is set in the fifth century AD, shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. The Roman patrician Massimo has just made an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the emperor, but has diverted suspicion onto Ezio, who is the beloved of Massimo’s daughter Fulvia. When Fulvia threatens to disclose her father’s crime, he defiantly questions whether she is capable of betraying her own father.
from notes by Ian Page © 2018