One particularly memorable scene speaks to the power of music to transcend the here and now. If you’ve seen the movie, I’m sure you know the scene I’m preparing to describe. According to Roger Ebert, “the overhead shot of the prisoners, spellbound by the music, is one of the film’s epiphanies.” Right on Roger!
Somehow I think Dufresne knew Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was about a valet/servant Figaro who outwitted his master Count Almaviva. Enough said; no spoilers should this prize-winning flick pique your interest.
Red (Morgan Freeman), Defresne’s fellow prisoner and friend, said it best when reflecting on the epic Mozart moment: “I have no idea to this day what them two Italian ladies were singin' about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singin' about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache. I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away.”
The walls were really all that were left of the 300 year old Vienna apartment Mozart called home for two and a half years. It's where he composed his popular opera, The Marriage of Figaro, in 1786. My drab little life soared to new heights as I walked the bare rooms of Austria’s favorite son and the world’s most prolific composer of such moving music.
Originally a two story unit built in the 17th century, it was redeveloped in 1716. When Mozart lived there it was known as the Camesina House after the family that had owned it since 1720. The original entrance to the house faced Schulerstrabe and would have been the one Mozart used. When it was bordered up years later to make room for a shop on the first floor, the rear entrance on Domgasse became the main entrance.
They did a nice job! I didn’t realize taking pictures was strictly forbidden (must have been the language barrier!) until halfway through our tour, although all there is to show (really) of Mozart’s apartment is bare rooms with off-white walls covered here and there with relevant pictures of people in Mozart’s life; photocopies of sheet music and a single piece of furniture in each room representative of the era to suggest the room’s function.
I found a desk in the room where it is thought Mozart did much of his composing and tutoring.
The list of furnishings that was part of public record after Mozart’s death contained both every-day and luxury items. Mozart had finally arrived, even though his new social status was short-lived. He and his family were forced to vacate the apartment two and a half years later.
I loved the view of the narrow street below the salon.
The apartment is just blocks from Vienna’s famed St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where Mozart and Constanze Weber were married in 1782, and where Mozart's funeral was held after his death at age 35, in 1791;
The only thing missing from those bare rooms the day I visited last fall was the sound of his music. It would have been pure heaven to hear and feel the sweet notes from The Marriage of Figaro breathing Mozart's life and his astounding gifts into those empty rooms. The rest is just trappings of his life here on earth.
Of course, Mozart’s music is pure heaven in any venue, even prison, particularly those we occasionally create for ourselves.
The Bottom Line on Mozart's Figaro House:
Verdict: If you're a true lover of the man and his music, you won't be disappointed with this bare bones look at Mozart's living conditions during the last years of his life. Just standing in the place he called home gave me chills.
How to Get There: Walking is your best mode of transportation in Vienna's Innerstadt. From St. Stephen's Cathedral, head southeast from Stephens Plaza on Schulerstrabe approximately 1 block. Turn right on Domgasse. Mozart's Figaro House will be on the left.
Insider Information: You can tour the apartment for 2 Euro; for 10 Euro your tour includes commentary via a headset. Our prearranged package tour did not include headsets or any of Mozart's music. Remember, no pictures! Unless of course you run ahead of the crowd and keep a low profile until you're caught.
Nearby Food: This is Vienna's tourist district. You have your pick of cafés up and down Karntnerstrasse.