The public have always wanted to know what happens on "the other side of the curtain", and they are particularly drawn by theatre rumours, scandals and intrigues. It was just the same two and three centuries ago. In 1786 the Austrian Emperor Josef II organised a competition between Mozart and Salieri, commissioning both to compose one-act operas based on backstage plots. At the time, Salieri was the vinner, but the judge of time – rightly or wrongly – awarded victory to Mozart.
Mozart's singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor, which was presented at that competition, was composed to an ageless plot: the impressario (or producer as one would say today) Frank is running an audition for his new company. Each female singer wants to be the prima donna and the men all want to be the male lead, and to achieve this aim and receive a mighty fee they are ready to undertake anything. Of course, in the finale friendship prevails.
In a singspiel the cast not only sings, but speaks too, and so the peripeteia of the plot are comprehensible even to an inexperienced observer. Competing with each other, the singers perform the greatest arias in their repertoires, which means that popular operatic pieces are included in the production. And the fact that the plot unfolds on a theatre stage during rehearsals allows the cast to play out this story using any theatre sets, including those of the production being performed in the evening.
Thanks to its short duration, vivid plot intrigue and virtuoso arias bordering on vocal trick, this opera may be an ideal choice for a first visit to the Mariinsky Theatre.