Classical Opera - Apollo et Hyacinthus - Audiophile Audition

Librettist and priest Rufinus Widl wrote the texts to this, Mozart's first real opera, composed at the mature old age of eleven, in Latin, and that was not all the good padre was required to do in this presentation. Ovid sets up a homosexual triangle, though the character of Zephyrus was added later. Originally Apollo was in love with boy Hyacinth, who is so impressed with Apollo's skill in discus throwing that he sets off to retrieve one of them only to have it ricochet into his head and kill him. Apollo is so overcome with grief that he disallows Hades to take the boy, and causes a flower-the Hyacinth-to spring up from his blood. When Zephyrus is added he becomes the bad guy who is jealous of Hyacinth's attentions to Apollo and causes the discus to hit him. In the priestly reworking, necessary for the times and because the production was a juvenile one commissioned by the Salzburg Benedictine University Grammar School (who put on a production of a Latin play or other moral work every year), the character of Melia and her father Oebalus are added so that Apollo can have a heterosexual love interest, and Zephyrus continues the cause of the nefarious action of the play. Melia's music, by the way, is the best thing in the opera.

And what music! While not competing in any way with the Da Ponte operas of course, I have heard many classical period pieces by mature composers that can't top the sheer invention found here. This three-part plus overture (intrada) work sparkles from beginning to end, and we marvel at the skill of the young composer. Sure there is a little too much recitative, but even that resonates with a skill and dramatic flavor that a man twice the age-make that three times-would be proud to have accomplished.

This production is simply wonderful and leaps to the top of a very small list. The Hegel recording on the Philips Mozart Edition year ago was fine but can't compete with this. Notable are the principals, Klara Ek as Melia and counter-tenor Lawrence Zasso as Apollo, who carry the weight of the production, but also menacing is the counter-tenor of Christopher Ainslie who takes the role of Zephyrus. The orchestra is first rate, despite the odd and rather perfunctory name, while Linn captures the whole in beautifully proportionate hi-res surround sound. This has to be in any serious Mozart collection. Full libretto and translations round out an excellent production.

Audiophile Audition
22 August 2012