Classical Opera’s recording of Apollo et Hyacinthus marked the launch of its major Mozart Opera Recording Cycle.
Apollo et Hyacinthus was written when the composer was only eleven years old. It is based on a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and, unusually, is in Latin. The music is astonishingly accomplished, already revealing an extraordinary instinct and ability to capture the essence of each dramatic situation, and one can hear numerous pre-echoes of the masterpieces of Mozart’s maturity.
Classical Opera’s previous performances of the work have attracted unanimous critical acclaim.
“This is a fine achievement. Ian Page’s direction of Apollo carries rich promise of his ability to deliver a valuable contribution to historically-informed Mozart opera performance… Tempos, balance and phrasing all convey the impression we are in the company of that rare beast, an instinctive Mozartian.” Opera
- Intrada (Allegro)2:41
- Recitativo: “Amice! jam parata sunt” (Hyacinthus, Zephyrus, Oebalus, Melia)2:53
- No. 1, Chorus: “Numen o Latonium” (Chor, Oebalus)4:26
- Recitativo: “Heu me! periimus!” (Melia, Oebalus, Hyacinthus, Zephyrus)1:24
- No. 2, Aria: “Saepe terrent Numina” (Hyacinthus)7:48
- Recitativo: “Ah nate! vera loqueris” (Oebalus, Apollo, Hyacinthus, Melia, Zephyrus)3:04
- No.3, Aria: “Jam pastor Apollo” (Apollo)3:46
- Recitativo: “Amare numquid filia” (Oebalus, Melia)1:49
- No. 4, Aria: “Laetari, iocari” (Melia)6:39
- Recitativo: “Rex! de salute filii” (Zephyrus, Oebalus, Melia)5:22
- No. 5, Aria: “En! duos conspicis” (Zephyrus)3:08
- Recitativo: “Heu! Numen! ecce!” (Zephyrus, Melia, Apollo)2:05
- No.6, Aria: “Discede crudelis” (Melia, Apollo)6:22
- Recitativo: “Non est – Quis ergo” (Hyacinthus, Oebalus)2:35
- No.7, Aria: “Ut navis in aequare” (Oebalus)6:16
- Recitativo: “Quocumque me converto” (Melia, Oebalus)2:56
- No.8, Duetto: “Natus cadit, atque Deus” (Oebalus, Melia)5:42
- Recitativo: “Rex! me redire cogit” (Apollo, Oebalus,Melia)4:49
- No.9, Terzetto: “Tandem post turbida fulmina” (Apollo, Melia, Oebalus)2:45
The opera is set in Laconia (Lacemaedonia) in ancient Greece.
Hyacinthus, with the help of his friend Zephyrus, is making the final preparations for a sacrifice which has been ordered by his father, King Oebalus, in honour of the god Apollo. As storm clouds gather, Oebalus orders the sacrificial fire to be lit, and the people offer their prayers to Apollo. Their offering is seemingly rejected when lightning destroys the altar and extinguishes the fire, but Hyacinthus, suspecting that the wrath of the gods has in fact been aroused by Zephyrus’ earlier words of disrespect, offers comfort and encouragement to his father. Suddenly, Apollo himself appears, in the guise of a shepherd, having been banished from the heavens after an altercation with Jupiter. Melia is instantly enchanted by him, and the god assures Oebalus that their prayers will be answered.
While Apollo, Hyacinthus and Zephyrus are throwing the discus together, Oebalus tells Melia that Apollo wishes to marry her. Melia rejoices in her great fortune and happiness, and rapturously anticipates being treated like a goddess. Zephyrus, though, rushes in to announce that Hyacinthus is dead. He has been killed during the discus
game, and Zephyrus, although guilty of the murder himself, blames the crime on Apollo. Astounded, Oebalus goes in search of the god. Zephyrus insists that Apollo is evil, and tries to persuade Melia to marry him instead, but Apollo soon arrives. He punishes Zephyrus for his treachery by transforming him into a wind and having him dragged off to Aeolus’ cave. Still believing Apollo to be the murderer of her brother, Melia sees this act of retribution as further evidence of Apollo’s volatility and wickedness, and the two argue.
On the banks of the river Eurotas, Oebalus has discovered his son still alive. With his final words Hyacinthus tells Oebalus that it was Zephyrus, not Apollo, who killed him. Oebalus swears vengeance, his emotions fluctuating turbulently between anger and grief. Melia arrives to report that she has followed her father’s orders and banished Apollo from the kingdom. As they realise the truth, they express their anguish and fear at how they have wronged the god. Apollo returns, however, and expresses his love for Hyacinthus by transforming the boy’s dead body into a bank of flowers which will bear his name forever. He forgives Oebalus and Melia, and reaffirms his wish to marry Melia and stay with them on earth. After all the storms and sorrows, peace and joy finally reign.
Apollo et Hyacinthus, which was commissioned by the grammar school attached to Salzburg University and first performed there on 13 May 1767, was Mozart’s first opera. It was written when he was eleven years old. It is of course truly astonishing 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 returned to Salzburg in November 1766, following his Grand Tour of Germany, Belgium, France, England, the Netherlands and Switzerland, he had already composed numerous symphonies, sonatas and arias. He had also performed at many of the leading courts and theatres in Europe, and equally importantly had been able to hear performances of music by many of the most celebrated composers of the day. Having spent barely a quarter of the previous five years in Salzburg, Mozart was now to remain there for ten consecutive months, and this period proved to be the most important and prolific to date in the young composer’s burgeoning career. A recitative and aria written to celebrate the Archbishop of Salzburg’s anniversary in December 1766 led to the commission for him to compose the first part of the sacred singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, which was performed in the Knights’ Hall of the Archbishop’s Palace on 12 March 1767, and this was soon followed by the remarkable Passion cantata Grabmusik. Such an imposing portfolio must have been increasingly difficult to ignore, and it was presumably a relatively uncontentious step to commission Mozart to write the music for Apollo et Hyacinthus.
Since 1617 the grammar school attached to Salzburg’s Benedictine University had had a tradition of performing an annual Latin play, and in 1661 a theatre equipped with elaborate stage machinery had been erected adjacent to the university’s Great Hall. In addition to the annual event in August, individual classes sometimes presented their own productions – indeed the five-year-old Mozart, though not attached to the school, had taken part in a Latin school play there in 1761 – and in May 1767 the third year students at the Gymnasium performed a five-act Latin tragedy, Clementia Croesi (‘The Clemency of Croesus’). This was written by the Professor of Syntax at the university, a Benedictine monk named Rufinus Widl, and was based on a story from Herodotus. King Croesus of Lydia has engaged the exiled Phrygian prince Adrastus to educate his son Atys. In the original story Adrastus kills Atys in a hunting accident and then, overcome by grief, kills himself; Father Widl, though, adapted the plot to suit his pedagogic purposes, and had Adrastus being generously forgiven by Croesus and welcomed into his court. Over the years it had also become customary for a short musical entertainment or ‘intermedium’ to be interpolated within the main play; this was also in Latin, and provided relief from the high-minded didacticism of the main play while at the same time reinforcing its meaning and message. Thus it was that early in 1767 Mozart was commissioned to write the intermedium which was to accompany Clementia Croesi.
The libretto was again by Father Widl, and the subject was the mythological story of Apollo and Hyacinth. In the original story, as told by Ovid, Pausanias and others, Apollo is in love with Hyacinth. While the two are playing discus together, Hyacinth is so impressed by the skill and strength of Apollo’s first throw that he enthusiastically runs to pick the discus up as it falls to the ground; as it lands, though, the discus ricochets off a rock and strikes Hyacinth a mortal blow to the head. A grief-stricken Apollo refuses to let Hades claim the boy, and instead creates a flower, the hyacinth, from his spilled blood. Other accounts of the myth add the character of Zephyrus, Apollo’s rival for the affections of Hyacinth. In this version, the jealous Zephyrus deliberately blows Apollo’s discus off course and causes it to strike Hyacinth. To reinforce the parallels with the themes of Clementia Croesi, and to make the story more palatable to eighteenth century audiences, Father Widl adapted the plot still further, adding the characters of Melia and Oebalus. Melia becomes the object of Apollo’s now heterosexual love, with Zephyrus providing the treachery and deceit which drives the drama forward, while Oebalus is now responsible for banishing the god from his kingdom. In this way the culmination of the opera becomes more about forgiveness and redemption, themes that were to dominate the great operatic masterpieces of Mozart’s maturity. The work was divided into three parts, which were given suitably classical titles: the Prologue was performed before the play, Chorus I after the second act, and Chorus II before the fifth and final act. The opera does not seem to have been given a name at the time (the first surviving reference to a title is from Mozart’s sister in 1799), and Leopold Mozart described it in his list of his son’s early compositions merely as ‘Music for a Latin Comedy’. Listeners expecting lots of laughs in Apollo et Hyacinthus should remember that such terms are purely relative, and that the work is a ‘comedy’ only in that it was designed to offset the tendentious moralizing of Clementia Croesi (which actually begins after Atys has been killed, and takes five acts to debate whether or not Croesus should seek retribution).
The first performance
The members of the original cast were all older than Mozart, but not by much. Apollo was sung by Johann Ernst and Hyacinthus by Christian Enzinger, both twelve-year-old trebles from the cathedral choir. The fifteen-year-old treble Felix Fuchs sang Melia, the only female role, and the Zephyrus was the seventeen-year-old Joseph Vonderthon. Oebalus, the only principal role written for a broken voice, was taken by Matthias Stadler, who was twenty-three and a student in Moral Theology and Law at the university; he later became a salaried tenor at the Salzburg court. The two priests, who are not specified in the libretto but would have been required to complete the ensemble for the opening chorus, were taken by Joseph Bründl and Jakob Moser, aged eighteen and sixteen respectively. Rehearsals began early, and the project was clearly taken seriously by the school authorities, for by late April numerous classes were being cancelled ‘because of the forthcoming comedy’. Both opera and play were performed on the afternoon of 13 May 1767, and according to the Gymnasium’s minutes the performance ‘pleased everybody’. After it had finally ended, the young Mozart spent the evening entertaining the assembled company on the harpsichord, ‘giving us notable examples of his musical art’.
Apollo et Hyacinthus displays remarkable maturity, individuality and virtuosity, and there are constant reminders that the eleven-year-old composer had already written a substantial and impressive body of works. The opera’s orchestral introduction was entitled ‘intrada’ rather than the usual ‘sinfonia’ or ‘overture’, presumably to reflect its brevity and modesty of scale, but its charm and vivacity provide an auspicious start to the composer’s operatic canon. It also features divided violas, a favourite device of the young Mozart which recurs in five of the nine subsequent numbers. The chorus which follows the opening recitative possesses an austere grandeur and formality reminiscent of Gluck, and there is a genuine sense of devotion and sincerity in the music. Each character has one aria, and even at such a young age Mozart has an unerring ability to create characters with real and heartfelt emotions. The word-painting and use of the orchestra to heighten meaning and atmosphere are already highly accomplished, although this is always achieved with the playfulness of a child discovering a new toy. Thus Hyacinthus’ aria is full of orchestral outbursts illustrating how the gods alternately threaten us and smile on us, while Oebalus’ aria at the beginning of the final act is a wonderfully vivid evocation of the mourning father’s anger and despair, with flashing violin scales magnificently capturing the turbulent sea imagery. Zephyrus’ aria is admirably sparse and sinister, the string texture reduced to a chromatic unison as he asks Melia which of her two admirers she favours, while in Apollo’s aria Mozart resists the temptation to provide him with vocal pyrotechnics, instead focusing on the character’s pastoral disguise in a number notable for its bucolic elegance and understatement; gods, after all, are not accustomed to having to prove themselves. Meanwhile Melia’s aria, in which she rejoices at the news of her imminent marriage to Apollo, has a vivacious virtuosity not dissimilar to Morgana’s “Tornami a vagheggiar” from Handel’s Alcina – the twelve-year-old who created the role must have been unusually accomplished.
No less remarkable is the duet between Melia and Apollo, in which the opposing strands of Melia’s venomous hatred and Apollo’s placating calmness are able to coexist within the same music. But the emotional climax of the score is surely the duet between Oebalus and Melia. Mozart’s fledgling genius is already apparent in the beauty not only of the melody but also of the scoring: muted first violins, lapping violas and pizzicato second violins, cello and bass are gently supported by horns, creating an exquisite texture over which father and daughter lament their plight. It forms the centrepiece of a final act in which we are entirely able to forget that this is the work of an eleven-year-old, and to savour the glories of an opera which would justify occasional revival even if its creator had been four times the age when he wrote it.
Andrew Kennedy is a former BBC New Generation Artist, and was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. Appearances with Classical Opera have included Artabanes (Artaxerxes) at St John’s Smith Square and concerts at Wigmore Hall and the Barbican. Andrew sings the roles of Oebalus and Der Christgeist on our recordings of Apollo et Hyacinthus’ and Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots respectively, both part of our complete Mozart Opera Recording Cycle. Mozart roles feature heavily in his extensive repertoire, and include Ferrando in Così fan Tutte, Tamino in Die Zauberflote, Tito in La clemenza di Tito, Belmonte in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni.
Klara Ek has previously appeared with Classical Opera as Vitellia (UK première of Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito) and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), and in concerts at Wigmore Hall, the Barbican and, in September 2016, at the annual Haydn Festival at the Esterházy palace in Eisenstadt. She can also be heard on the company’s début recording ‘The A-Z of Mozart Opera’. Other operatic roles include Pamina (Die Zauberflöte) for Staatstheater Stuttgart, Ilia (Idomeneo) for Danish National Opera, Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) for Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels and Arminda (La finta giardiniera) for the Academy of Ancient Music, and she has appeared in concert with many of the world’s leading orchestras.
Sophie Bevan made her Classical Opera début in 2005 as Publio in the UK première of Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito, and became an Associate Artist in 2007. Other appearances with the company include Weltgeist (Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots), Silvia (Ascanio in Alba), our J. C. Bach, Handel, Gluck and Haydn retrospectives at Wigmore Hall and several concerts at Kings Place. She appears on our recordings of Apollo et Hyacinthus and Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, singing the roles of Hyacinthus and Der Weltgeist respectively, and appears in the title role on our recording of Zaide. She can also be heard on our recording ‘Blessed Spirit – a Gluck retrospective’ (Wigmore Hall Live, 2010). Further roles include Barbarina (Le nozze di Figaro) for Welsh National Opera, Xenia (Boris Godunov), Soprano (Messiah), Despina (Così fan tutte), Télaïre (Castor et Pollux) and Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier) for English National Opera, and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) and Pamina (Die Zauberflöte) for Garsington Opera. Her extensive concert repertoire ranges from Handel’s Samson to James Macmillan’s Parthenogenesis, and in 2008 she made her BBC Proms début in Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.
Lawrence Zazzo sang the title role in Classical Opera’s début production of Mozart’s Apollo et Hyacinthus in 1998, and in 2011 he returned to appear with the company in concert at Wigmore Hall. In 2016 he joined the company in Eisenstadt to perform in the annual Haydn Festival at the Esterházy palace. Further operatic appearances have included the title roles in Handel’s Giulio Cesare for Opéra National de Paris and Radamisto for English National Opera, Tolomeo (Giulio Cesare) for the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Farnace (Mitridate, re di Ponto) for Bayerische Staatsoper and Trinculo (Ades’ The Tempest) for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Christopher Ainslie appeared with Classical Opera in the title role of the Royal Opera’s production of Arne’s Artaxerxes and in our subsequent recording of the work, as Zephyrus in our recording of Mozart’s Apollo et Hyacinthus, and in concert at Wigmore Hall. Christopher has rapidly established himself as a leading interpreter of the countertenor repertoire, and highlights on the opera stage include Innocent 4 (Birtwistle’s The Minotaur) at the Royal Opera House, Ottone (L’incoronazione di Poppea) and Eustazio (Rinaldo) at Glyndebourne, Voice of Apollo (Death in Venice) for Opéra de Lyon, Ottone (Poppea) at Drottningholm, the title role in Tamerlano at the Göttingen Handel Festival, and Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Voice of Apollo and Ottone for Opera North.
Ian Page is the founder, conductor and Artistic Director of Classical Opera and The Mozartists. He began his musical education as a chorister at Westminster Abbey, and studied at the University of York and the Royal Academy of Music. Before founding in Classical Opera in 1997, he worked on the music staff at Scottish Opera, Opera Factory, Drottningholm and Glyndebourne.
With Classical Opera he has conducted most of Mozart’s early operas, including the world premières of the ‘original’ version of Mitridate, re di Ponto and a new completion of Zaide, as well as Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and La clemenza di Tito. He has also conducted the UK premières of Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito, Telemann’s Orpheus, Jommelli’s Il Vologeso and Haydn’s Applausus, and the first new staging for 250 years of Johann Christian Bach’s Adriano in Siria. In 2009 he made his Royal Opera House début conducting Arne’s Artaxerxes at the Linbury Studio Theatre, and his studio recording of the work was released in 2011 on Linn Records.
He has devised and conducted numerous recordings for Classical Opera, including ‘The A-Z of Mozart Opera’ and ‘Blessed Spirit – a Gluck retrospective’ (both selected for Gramophone magazine’s annual Critic’s Choice), ‘Where’er You Walk’ with tenor Allan Clayton and ‘Perfido!’ with soprano Sophie Bevan (both shortlisted for the International Opera Awards in 2016 and 2017 respectively), and ‘Mozart in London’, which was recorded live during Classical Opera’s festival of the same name at Barbican’s Milton Court in 2015. In 2012 he embarked on a new complete cycle of Mozart opera recordings, aiming to record all of Mozart’s stage works over the course of twenty years . He is the creator and driving force behind MOZART 250, a ground-breaking 27-year journey through Mozart’s life, works and influences, and in 2017 he founded The Mozartists to facilitate the company’s ever-expanding concert work.
He is widely recognised for his work in developing talented young singers, and is in demand as a vocal coach. He serves on the coaching staff for the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House and for the Royal College of Music, and provides bespoke training to young singers through Classical Opera’s Associate Artist Scheme.
Updated 3 July 2018
Comprising some of the leading players from both the UK and further afield, The Mozartists have won widespread acclaim from public and critics alike. They play on period instruments and perform symphonies and concertos as well as operas.