Apollo and Hyacinth

Mozart

Information

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
APOLLO AND HYACINTH
Libretto by P. Rufinus Widl
English translation by Gilly French
and Jeremy Gray

Whichford House, 17 June 2008
The Orangery terrace, Westonbirt, 24 and 25 August 2008
Music at Wotton, 4 October 2008

Cast

Oebalus king of Lacedaemonia Tom Raskin
Melia his daughter Martene Grimson
Hyacinth his son Amanda Pitt
Apollo a god Serena Kay
Zephyrus Lina Markeby
High Priest of Apollo Edmund Connolly
   
Conductors Murray Hipkin (June, October)
Christian Curnyn (August)
Director Jeremy Gray

The Bampton Classical Players, on period instruments

Persephone Gibbs, Camilla Scarlett violin; Alexandria Laurence, Malgosia Ziemkewitz viola; Emily Robinson ‘cello; Kate Aldridge double bass; Hannah Riddell flute; Mark Radcliffe, Joel Raymond oboe; Kate Goldsmith, Alistair Rycroft horn.

Synopsis

Act 1
Preparations are being undertaken by Hyacinth, son of King Oebalus, for an important sacrifice to the god Apollo. His friend Zephyr, who claims to plan to marry Hyacinth’s sister Melia, is nevertheless insanely jealous of Hyacinth’s obsession with Apollo and makes unwelcome advances to him. King Oebalus and Melia arrive, but a thunderstorm suddenly disrupts the ceremony and is taken as a sign of Apollo’s displeasure. Oebalus blames his children, but Hyacinth suspects Zephyr’s blasphemy. Hyacinth attempts to calm the mood by explaining the capricious but ultimately friendly ways of the gods.

Apollo, who has been banished by his father Jupiter, appears disguised as a shepherd, and asks for protection in Oebalus’ kingdom. He reveals his identity and allows Melia to fall in love with him, but also arouses the jealousy of Zephyr by embracing Hyacinth.

Act 2
Oebalus announces to Melia’s intense delight that Apollo has requested her hand in marriage. Melia wonders where Apollo is, and is told that he is throwing the discus with Hyacinth. She sings in praise of her own fame and happiness. Zephyr brings the news that Hyacinth has been felled by the discus thrown by Apollo. Incredulous, Melia is ordered by her father to banish Apollo. Zephyr learns for the first time that Melia is now engaged to Apollo and attempts to win her back for himself, proclaiming the many faults of the ‘murderer’. Melia is too distraught to accept him. Apollo encounters Zephyr and angrily has him carried away by the winds. Melia refuses to listen to Apollo’s pleading, taking him to be a double murderer, and banishes him.

 

Act 3
Oebalus finds the body of Hyacinth, who with his dying breath reveals that it was Zephyr who killed him, out of revenge for his obsessive friendship with Apollo. Oebalus is distraught. Melia arrives, and she and her father express their horror at their error and their behaviour to Apollo. The god nevertheless returns and, through his love of Hyacinth, transforms him into a flower. Apologies are made, and Apollo and Melia resume their engagement to general rejoicing.

Reviews

genuine enjoyment and engagement
Opera Today, 29 July 2009

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genuine enjoyment and engagement

Opera Today, 29 July 2009

Performances by Bampton Classical Opera are typically noteworthy for two principal aspects: first, the company repeatedly presents classical-period rarities which surprise and delight, and second, they do so with wit, energy and musico-dramatic vision, often employing quirky, fresh translations.

These concert performances of two little-known ‘pre-reform’ works by Gluck - La danza (1755) and Le cinesi (1754) - on the small stage at the Wigmore Hall certainly confirmed the company’s commitment to undeservedly neglected works of the early classical period, and consistently high musical standards served to convince the audience of the merit and beauty of these unfamiliar treasures.

Before he had the good fortune, at almost 50 years-of-age, to become acquainted with the group of ‘reformers’ gathered at the Viennese court - theatre Intendant, Count Durazzo; poet, Raniero de Calzabigi; choreographer, Angiolini; and designer, Quaglio — Gluck was a moderately successful composer of Metastasian opera seria. His reputation today derives largely from his status as ‘reformer’ - as exemplified by his later, innovative, operas, Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste and the two stories of Iphigénie.

The Preface to Alceste (1767) set forth the new operatic creed. Gluck professed his desire to diminish the pre-eminence of the voice as a virtuoso solo instrument, to create greater continuity of design, and to unite the dramatic action with the emotional expression of the musical score. However, as the esteemed musicologist Winton Dean has remarked, ‘[t]here never was a “reformer” so little in advance of his age and so perfectly adapted to swimming with the current rather than against it’. Gluck certainly had no inherent distaste for the traditional Italian vocal style. For more than twenty-years he had been purveying ‘old-style’ opera seria in the courts of Europe, and indeed he did not abandon the genre after the success of Orfeo (1762), going on to set three more libretti by Metastasio in the 1760s. But, while he may not have been a radical, preferring to ‘lead from behind’, Gluck clearly recognised a good opportunity when he saw one — and it is this practical awareness of musical and dramatic context, coupled with the ability to maximise his own skills, which is equally evident in these two ‘pre-reform’ works. Like his later operas, they are both characterised by a supreme feeling for melody, a sure sense of balance, and by a keen ear for instrumental colour and texture.

La danza is typical of Gluck’s operas in that it presents a mythological situation as a vehicle for making general declarations about human nature. Composed in 1755 for the birthday of the future Emperor Leopold II, it presents a conversation between the delightful nymph, Nice, who is required to dance at a forthcoming festival, and her beloved, the shepherd, Tirsi, who fears that her beauty will undoubtedly attract other suitors and lead inevitably to her infidelity. In a sequence of alternating arias, the lovers - whose romance must, for reasons not disclosed, be kept secret - discourse on love and jealousy, fear and betrayal, honesty and faithfulness, closing with a rather inconclusive duet (repeated, perhaps to lend greater conviction to its sentiments …) in which they both declare, ‘I was born to yearn — for you alone’ (‘Per te sola … io son nato a sospirar’).

Originally described as a ‘componimento drammatico pastorale’, this short work is in fact distinctly lacking in dramatic development or momentum; but, nevertheless, the debate between the suspicious shepherd and the self-composed nymph ranges through various emotional and human dilemmas, and the lyricism and sincerity of the vocal lines is enhanced by an array of instrumental colours and textures - the cor anglais, oboes and horns which suggest Tirsi’s anxiety and forthrightness in the opening aria, giving way to gentle string colours, tinted by the bassoon, to complement Nice’s protestation of fidelity and steadfastness. The Bampton Classical Players, performing on period instruments and led from the harpsichord by Christian Curnyn, provided sensitive and alert support throughout; while the instrumental parts lack contrapuntal interest, the context does not in fact require it, and colour and timbre introduce a dramatic element.

The two principals, Martene Grimson (Nice) and Nicholas Sharratt (Tirsi), proved themselves equally adept at attaining the ‘beautiful simplicity’ which Gluck declared to be his aspiration. Sharratt’s rich, warm, lower register suitably conveyed the shepherd’s earnestness and concern, and he skilfully applied appropriate nuance to particular textual phrases to add weight and dimension to the sketched character. While her articulation of the Italian text was less precise, Grimson confidently tackled a virtuosic part; at the top of her range her voice has an impressive accuracy, clarity and attack, which she employed to convey the nymph’s insistent assertions of her honesty and dependability, and she nimbly despatched the rapid passage work.

Despite the fact that the work is in essence a simple cantata, it was perhaps a shame that the two soloists preferred to sing directly to the audience, rather than to each other, Grimson remaining quite self-contained even in the final duet. The two music-stands, isolated to the right and left of the conductor, exacerbated the absence of dramatic engagement, which was a pity since the gentle, tender interchanges between the two characters were serenely and affectively sung.

There was more dramatic vitality post-interval in Le cinesi, composed by Gluck for a festival in 1754. In that year, Empress Maria Theresa had appointed Gluck opera Kapellmeister to the court theatre in Vienna, a post which required him to compose in the livelier, more flexible style of the fashionable French opéras comiques. The composer put his familiarity with various operatic styles and conventions to good use in this opera - a forerunner in the genre of ‘opera about opera’. The scenario is trivial but charming and concise. Three ‘Chinese’ ladies, wile away a tedious evening, confined to the women’s quarters, when they are surprisingly joined by an illicit male interloper from Europe. As romantic attractions begin to surface, they determine to pass the time by play-acting, each of the ladies selecting a different genre - seria, pastorale and buffa. The lone male, Silango, is charged with judging the various merits of the contrasting styles, and their performers. After much melodramatic self-advertisement, flirtatious coquetry and jealous sniping, Silango tactfully suggests that the ladies should abandon their dramatic aspirations and put all their energies into dancing.

First performed in 2008, this production was recently revived at the 2009 Cheltenham festival, and the four soloists slipped quickly and effectively into their roles. Metastasio is not known for his sense of humour - indeed, this is his only ‘comic’ libretto; but the singers made much of the potential for caricature and irony, although some of the anachronisms of Murray Hipkin’s new translation were a little grating. Lina Markeby conveyed the moral self-righteousness and pomposity of the haughty Lisinga to great effect; Tom Raskin was a raffish Silango, suave and confident; while Serena Kay pouted and preened as the feisty Tangia, envious of Silango’s regard for the serene beauty of Sivene (Martene Grimson). The demands, technical and musical, of the long da capo arias, delivered by each principal in turn, are not inconsiderable, but they presented few obstacles to these performers, and Christian Curnyn effectively ensured that dramatic pace and momentum were sustained. Grimson was perhaps feeling the effects of having to perform two demanding roles in one evening for, while she rose to the challenges at the climax of her aria, some of her passage work was a little ragged, with intonation and rhythmic accuracy less than secure. But, overall, the sense of genuine enjoyment and engagement which all the soloists conveyed made one long to see the fully staged production revived once more.

Once again, a performance by Bampton Classical Opera left this listener amazed that such works are not more frequently performed, and convinced that there must be a wealth of unfamiliar repertoire from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries that deserves to be resurrected and celebrated — certainly when historical integrity and musical standards are as high as this.

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Claire Seymour

 

…continuously enjoyable… mainly excellent
The Spectator 29 July 2009

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…continuously enjoyable… mainly excellent

The Spectator 29 July 2009

I enjoyed much more Bampton Classical Opera’s double bill of early Gluck at the Wigmore Hall... La danza and Le cinesi are comic divertissements, dismissed by Martin Cooper, in the best book I know on Gluck, in the haughtiest terms. Musical parody is notoriously a form in which success is rare, and Gluck may be the least likely composer, together with Bach, to bring it off. In fact, he incorporated several of the arias we heard here in later, serious works. Even so, the send-up of Andromache being the tragedy queen, of artless pastoral amorousness, and self-advertising conceit make for interesting, characteristically inventive music, and the performance, a purely concert one, was continuously enjoyable, with lively accompaniments under Christian Curnyn... The singers were mainly excellent, with the commanding Martene Grimson making a strong impression…

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Michael Tanner

 

just right… excellent
Opera Now, November/December 2008 Early Music Today, October/November 2008

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just right… excellent

Opera Now, November/December 2008 Early Music Today, October/November 2008

Bampton Classical Opera has a habit of putting on out-of-the-way operas; previous seasons hve seen productions of operas by Arne, Benda, Gazzaniga, Soler, Salieri and Storace to name just a few.  This season was no exception; a productions of Ferdinando Paer’s Leonora, and this, a period-performance in English of two minature operas: Gluck’s one-act gentle comedy about alleviating boredom, and Mozart’s first stab at an opera, written at the age of 12.

The setting was a sunny yet windy (which caused a variety of minor problems dealt with well and amusingly by the cast) corner of the spectacular main building of Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire; a vast, 19th-century mansion in some beautiful grounds.  Despite the period orchestra, the open-air set, designed as the women’s quarters of a Chinese house, had a number of modern touches.  It was simple but effective, and remained the same for both operas; the Olympic Rings that adorned the wall were equally suitable for China and Ancient Greece.

Gluck’s opera is an opera about nothing at all, but the cast turned his only real attempt at Italian comedy into an amusing divertissement.  Three girls are joined illicitly by a man in their quarters, and decide to each try their hand at opera.  One chooses tragedy, one pastoral, one comedy – with an additional love interest thrown in to the plot for good measure.  Each singer gets an aria – these were all pleasant and well-sung, particularly the pastoral tenor aria – and at the end they all decide to learn to dance instead.  Director Jeremy Gray got the production just right here, and the singers were excellent.

Mozart’s opera is also very much an opera in minature – one is whipped through the plot in little more than an hour.  The music is pleasant, if understandably more traditional I form than Mozart’s later operas and with little time for any development of the characters.  It was staged as though the Chinese women from the first half were performing, a neat touch that also got round  problems of scenery and costume changes.

Again, the singers, most of whom had sung in the Gluck, were mainly excellent, the highlight being Martene Grimson as Melia, who had the choicest arias and took advantage of it.  Tom Raskin was strong both in the Gluck and as King Oebalus, and Lina Markeby and Serena Kay also shone.  The orchestra, directed by Christian Curnyn, could have been more in tune at times – though their tent was not the most accommodating venue in which to perform.  The only real flaw here was the production, which added moments of humour at the most inappropriate moments.  Zephyr trying to get a bucket off his head for a whole da capo aria whilst Hyacinth sings solemnly in praise of the gods; Melia throwing comedy plastic apples at Apollo when she thinks he has killed her brother.  It’s not necessary; why not give Mozart’s music a chance to speak for itself?

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Jonathan Wikely

 

…a triumph
The Oxford Times, October 2008

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…a triumph

The Oxford Times, October 2008

In keeping with their commitment to staging rare 18th-century opera, Bampton Clasical Opera directors Jeremy Gray and Gilly French have this year resurrected Mozart’s Apollo and Hyacinth, which they first staged as a joint education project with Queen’s College in London last year, and performed at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire earlier this summer. On Saturday the opera enjoyed another outing, this time at Wotton House, near Aylesbury, a venue that suits Bampton’s small forces exceptionally well.

Apollo and Hyacinth may seem immature compared to Mozart’s later works — Don Giovanni it ain’t — but that’s hardly surprising when you discover that he wrote the piece at the age of 11. Yes, 11 — child prodigy stuff indeed. Suggestions that he may have had help from his father, Leopold, seem a little churlish, but probably hold more than an element of truth. Still, it hardly matters — the piece is entertaining enough, with some glorious music, plenty of comic moments, and enough tension to keep things swinging along.

The plot is based on the ancient myth of the transformation of Hyacinth, son of Oebalus, the King of Lacedaemonia, into a flower, after being killed by his jealous friend, Zephyr — who, just to complicate things, is also hoping to marry Hyacinth’s sister, the beautiful Melia. However, it is the god Apollo who eventually wins Melia’s hand, after having the murderous Zephyr carried away by the winds.

Gilly French’s new English translation occasionally jarred a little, and there were some rather clumsy attempts at humour — such as Apollo, disguised as a shepherd, entering with a toy lamb on wheels. But musically, the production was a triumph. Among a strong cast, tenor Tom Raskin stood out as an imposing and powerfully-sung Oebalus, but I also liked Martene Grimson’s spirited Melia, while Serena Kay (Apollo), Amanda Pitt (Hyacinth) and Lina Markeby (Zephyrus) made the most of the comic possibilities of their roles.

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Nicola Lisle

 

first class cast
The Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Echo, August 2008

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first class cast

The Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Echo, August 2008

The open-air setting is delightful with the Orangery and the fine school building forming a backcloth on two sides.  We began in a diluted sunshine and ended wearing our winter anoraks with rugs round our legs!  All typical of an English summer, except for the absence of rain!
 
This opera company specialises in lesser-known operas from the 18th century and on this occasion two short operas by Gluck and Mozart were performed on the small stage. Gluck's Le Cinesi (The Chinese Ladies) provides the opportunity for four singers to sing solos .To alleviate boredom each enacts a simple scene for the amusement of the others.  We in the audience were similarly amused but in particular were impressed by the fresh young voices, each displaying great flexibility and a pleasing tone as well as good acting ability.  I should mention the fiendishly difficult aria that Tom Raskin sang with aplomb.
 
It seems unbelievable that Mozart at the tender age of 11 years could have composed Apollo and Hyacinth on his own and I suspect that his talented father, Leopold, had a hand in it!  We hear the story of Apollo and Hyacinth and the jealous south wind Zephyr who blows Apollo's discus so that it kills Hyacinth.  Even if his father helped, the young Mozart 's music shows much poise and beauty for his tender years. Some of the arias may be rather static but others have original ideas. There is a lovely moment with a serene passage for strings and horns as Hyacinth dies and flowers grow from his grave.  Without exception the young singers were in fine voice with excellent diction.  All the cast needed to be versatile coloratura singers as the young composer provided many technical challenges for them. Perhaps I should highlight for special mention the superb voice of Martene Grimson who was quite outstanding in a first class cast that included Lina Markeby and Bampton regular Serena Kay.
 
The Bampton Classical Players on period instruments under conductor Christian Curnyn were a delight to listen to and accompanied faultlessly.

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Donald Hollins

 

Articles

“Love, love, love is the soul of genius” (Mozart)

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“Love, love, love is the soul of genius” (Mozart)

“I am also informed that the Prince of Saltzbourg, not crediting that such masterly compositions were really those of a child, shut him up for a week, during which he was not permitted to see anyone, and was left only with music paper, and the words of an oratorio.”  Daines Barrington, report to the Royal Society, London, 1769

Mozart’s first true opera is by any standards a remarkable achievement.  Having recently written two substantial dramatic works in Salzburg, the Lentern sacred Singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots and the Passion cantata Grabmusik, the child Mozart was commissioned in 1767 for an opera for student performance by members of the Syntax class at the Benedictine University.  Here, as at other central European Catholic universities, there was a tradition for an end-of-term Latin drama on a religious or moral subject.  The resulting musical work was originally untitled: his father Leopold referred to it as ‘Music for a Latin Comedy’ in 1768, and it was only called ‘Apollo und Hyacinth’ by Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl in 1799 – as it is (most unusually) a Latin opera, its proper title should be Apollo et Hyacinthus.  In fact it was only a support feature, because it was intended to be performed between the acts of a far weightier work, a Latin play in five acts, Clementia Croesi, written by the Benedictine professor of the Syntax classes, Rufinus Widl.  Based on Herodotus, this story dealt with the accidental death in a hunting accident of the son of King Croesus.  Custom was that the lighter supporting musical work should consider a comparable theme, and so Widl turned to the mythological story of Apollo and the murdered Hyacinth, based mostly on Ovid, for the libretto for the opera.

The soloists for the première on 13 May 1767 were boys aged from 12 to 18, with King Oebalus performed by Matthias Stadler, a 22 year-old student in moral theology and canon law, and the music – as the Director of the Salzburg Gymnasium proudly recorded – was ‘composed by Wolfgang Mozart, a child of eleven, and delighted everyone, and at night he gave us notable proofs of his musical art at the harpsichord.’  Mozart’s name was already renowned across Europe as a prodigy virtuoso at the keyboard, but this was arguably his first significant achievement as a composer, even though by then he had written several symphonies, arias, piano music and violin sonatas.  Apollo et Hyacinthus already reveals a grasp of human character and motivation, allied to a language dependent on melodic beauty and rhythmic intensity.  One may suspect that the immensely talented Leopold Mozart may have ‘helped his son with his coursework’ on this occasion – it is hard to believe that the boy could have created such a compelling work unaided, and the work shows precocious sophistication, alternating recitative of unusually developed harmonic interest with freshly scored and dynamic musical numbers.  In fact, only a few months later in Vienna, Wolfgang’s second opera La finta semplice aroused suspicion of being written by his father. 

The original story of the jealousy of Zephyrus over the love between the god Apollo and Hyacinth had a triangular homoerotic nature which was clearly unpalatable to Widl and the educational purpose of the entertainment.  Consequently he introduced Hyacinth’s sister Melia as the object of Apollo and Zephryus’ rival love, although sufficient hints remain of the male desires of the original.

Attractively varied and eminently lyrical arias (usually da capo in form) abound, and Mozart made few concessions in technical difficulty to the youthfulness of his original singers.  The vanity aria for Melia which opens the second of the three short acts is characterized by jubilant virtuosity with demanding coloratura (the original singer was 15 year-old Felix Fuchs), and the powerful aria for Oebalus lamenting the death of his son is turbulent and relentless, likening his conflicting emotions to a ship tossed on the oceans.  In these the influence of Gluck seems clear, and the young Mozart must have had access to the French master’s music (they were to meet in Vienna the following year) although he was also probably influenced by Salzburg composers Eberlin and Adlgasser.  But the high points are two marvellous duets which suggest an understanding of character and motivation quite remarkable in a child composer.  In Act 2 an extraordinary conflict duet for the angry and indignant Melia and the pleading Apollo portrays the crossed purposes and misunderstandings of the couple with remarkable effectiveness.  In very different vein is the expressively intense Act 3 andante for Melia and Oebalus, a piece of remarkable sophistication and breathtaking beauty, scored for muted first violins against pizzicato lower strings which perhaps represent the limpid lyre-playing of the absent Apollo: here, possibly for the first time, we encounter that sublime introspection which characterizes the slow movements of some of the mature piano concertos, and in fact Mozart soon recycled this music for his Symphony K43.

Notwithstanding its brevity and the uncomplicated charm of its music, Apollo and Hyacinth depicts a whole operatic world in miniature and ranges through the widest array of moods and situations, encompassing serenity and virtuosity, comedy and tragedy, love, jealousy, death, forgiveness and reconciliation.  Recent professional productions have belied Charles Osborne’s opinion of 1978 that “the work is not really suitable for professional presentation [but] schools might care to remember it when looking for an end-of-term opera.”  The latter is certainly true, but in fact there is a moving depth of character and beauty in this work which makes it of value to professional performers and discerning audience alike.  It seems entirely appropriate that the child Mozart should have launched his incomparable operatic career with a celebration of the youthful Apollo, inventor of the lyre and god of music, in a work of endearing freshness and vivaciousness.


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Production Photos