Classical Opera - Apollo et Hyacinthus - ClassicsToday.com
01 July 2012ClassicsToday.com
Composed in May, 1767 for the grammar school connected with Salzburg University, Apollo et Hyacinthus was Mozart's first opera (Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes, performed two months earlier, was a "sacred drama"). Do the math and note that he was 11 years old. Naturally, this is not going to overwhelm like the da Ponte trilogy, but you listen with amazement to the young man's craft and his sheer ability to entertain. Its hour-and-a-quarter is comprised of da capo arias, a chorus, a pair of duets, a terzetto, and too much recitative, but even the latter is skillfully achieved. The work is sung in Latin, and all of the roles were taken by boy singers-altos and sopranos-except for the tenor part of King Oebalus.
It is interesting to note that in the original myth it is Hyacinth (a boy), with whom both Apollo and Zephyrus are in love; Mozart's librettist, Rufinus Widl, a Benedictine monk, added the female character Melia as the object of both men's affections-anything as openly homosexual as the original tale was not on the Archbishop's agenda.
Apollo is a good guy in this opera and is beautifully sung by countertenor Lawrence Zazzo; Zephyrus also is a countertenor, and Christopher Ainslie, with a less focused, more diaphanous sound, fills the bill nicely. Melia is the lovely soprano Klara Ek, and her duet with Apollo that ends Part 2, in which she spurns him and he pleads his case, is a high point of the score. Tenor Andrew Kennedy sings Oebalus, the king and father of Melia and Hyacinth, and he comes into his own in a simile aria in Part 3 in which he expresses his rage at the murder of Hyacinth with plenty of coloratura. He and Ek have a wonderful grief duet near the opera's close. Sophie Bevan as Hyacinth, with the least to sing (he's more-or-less dead by 25 minutes into the opera), is good enough. The small orchestra (21 strings, two each of oboes and horns, a bassoon, and harpsichord), led by Ian Page, is splendid. No masterpiece, but a masterful performance. The recording of this opera included in Philips' Complete Mozart Edition under Leopold Hager is good, but this one surpasses it in charm, variety of voices (no countertenors in the Hager), and grace. A highly recommendable bauble.
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