Mozart's First Opera

Ian PageMon 30th April 2012

Hear an excerpt of Classical Opera's forthcoming new recording of Apollo et Hyacinthus

On May 14, 2012 Classical Opera’s new recording of Mozart’s first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, will be released on Linn Records. This is the first CD in our projected complete cycle of Mozart’s dramatic works, and we are celebrating this launch with two concert performances of the opera – at St George’s Bristol on May 11 and at London’s Cadogan Hall on May 14.

Apollo et Hyacinthus was composed when Mozart was 11, and it is in Latin. Not very promising material, you might think, but Apollo is a truly astonishing piece, containing music of great beauty and dramatic insight. It is of course remarkable that anyone could write an opera of such quality at such an age, but in some ways the achievement is unsurprising, given how extraordinary Mozart’s childhood had already been up to that point.

By the time Mozart turned 11 he had travelled extensively through much of Europe, including such leading musical centres as Munich, Vienna, Mannheim, Paris and London. Equally importantly he had been able to hear performances of works by many of the most celebrated composers of the day, and when he finally returned home in December 1766, a few weeks before his 11th birthday, he had written numerous symphonies, sonatas and arias of his own.

It is clear that his portfolio of compositions was already impressive, for on his return to Salzburg his employer, the Archbishop, apparently subjected him to solitary confinement with some manuscript paper and a short text, to test whether he was really capable of composing such accomplished music unaided. I presume the exam was passed with flying colours!

Mozart was to stay in Salzburg for 10 months before his next excursion, and this period proved to be the most important and prolific to date in the young composer’s burgeoning career. In particular it saw the composition of three extraordinary works – the dramatic cantata Grabmusik (thought by some to be the result of the Archbishop’s test), the sacred singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, and Apollo et Hyacinthus.

Apollo consists of a short overture and nine numbers – each of the five characters has an aria, there is an opening chorus (sung by the soloists), two duets and a final trio. These are all linked by particularly accomplished and evocative recitatives. The plot is charming, and the libretto includes such memorable stage directions as 'Zephyrus is transformed into a wind and whirled away' and 'the dead body sinks into the earth, and hyacinths bloom in its place'.

But what does the music actually sound like? Not quite like mature Mozart, though naturally there is a link. Not quite like Handel either, or even Johann Christian Bach, the young Mozart’s friend and mentor. Nor is it entirely mistakable for the music of such contemporaries as Haydn, Gluck, Paisiello or Hasse. This is the extraordinary point: even at the age of 11 Mozart already has his own distinct individuality and musical personality. As one might expect from an 11-year-old, the colours are vibrant and primary, and there is an impish playfulness in the word-painting, but no excuses or allowances need to be made, and one quickly forgets that this music is the work of a child.

Indeed, you can almost hear the young composer growing up and taking flight during the course of this 75-minute opera, and by the last of the three short acts the level of craftsmanship and inspiration is staggering. This is nowhere more apparent than in the duet 'Natus cadit', where soprano and tenor lament their plight   over an exquisite orchestral texture which includes muted violins, lapping violas and pizzicato bass.

Classical Opera’s recording of Apollo et Hyacinthus is released on Linn Records on Monday May 14, 2012. The launch concerts are at St George’s Bristol on May 11 and Cadogan Hall, London on May 14, and the programme also includes Mozart’s first symphony and three early concert arias.

Visit www.classicalopera.co.uk for more details 

 

Listen to duet 'Natus cadit' on the Gramophone Player below:







Ian Page's picture

Ian Page

Ian Page founded UK-based opera company Classical Opera in 1997. The company specialises in repertoire of the Classical period and performs with its own period orchestra. Page has championed the lesser-known works of Mozart and his contemporaries, with projects including the world premiere of the ‘original’ version of Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, the world premiere of a new completed version of Zaide, the UK premiere of Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito and his own new performing edition of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes in The Royal Opera’s production, which saw the opera’s return to Covent Garden after more than 150 years.

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