Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is often referred to as the greatest composer the world has ever known. He was also the finest pianist, organist, and conductor of his time.
As a child prodigy he traveled a great deal, performing in the courts of Europe and absorbing the culture and musical ideas of the continent. These influences inform his mature compositions, which combine German depth, Italianate melody, and French elegance into deeply human works.
A highly prolific composer (in his short lifetime he composed over 600 works), he created supreme masterworks in all genres: opera, chamber, symphonic, and choral music. His works are examples of perfection of form and classicism, influencing poets, philosophers, and musicians over the past two centuries.
We know from his letters that he was always eager for the next opera commission. Particularly skilled at musical characterizations and dramatic truth, his operas such as Idomeneo, The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte, La Clemenza di Tito, and The Magic Flute are endlessly fascinating works, well-loved by both the general public and professional musicians, and performed regularly throughout the world.
An opera for 5 singers and orchestra in two acts, Il Re Pastore (The Royal Shepherd) was composed in 1775 and is based on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio – which had already been set by at least twelve composer prior to Mozart!
Alexander the Great liberates the tiny kingdom of Sidon from a tyrant usurper and looks to restore the throne to the one true king . . . but where is the rightful heir? Just before he was put to death, the king hid his baby daughter, Aminta, with a shepherd and his family. She has grown up working on a sheep farm, with no idea of who she actually is and where her destiny lies. When faced with her true identity, Aminta has to make a choice— will she ascend the throne, or will she keep her promise and marry her childhood sweetheart, Elisa, and live the simple life? This is the premise of Mozart’s comic fable, Il Re Pastore.
Il Re Pastore (The Shepherd King) is an opera, K. 208, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to an Italian libretto by Metastasio, edited by Giambattista Varesco. It is an opera seria. The opera was first performed on 23 April 1775 in Salzburg in the Rittersaal (knight’s hall) of the Residenz-Theater in the palace of the Archbishop Count Hieronymus von Colloredo.
In 1775 the opera was commissioned for a visit by the Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria, the youngest son of Empress Maria Theresa, to Salzburg. Mozart spent six weeks working on the opera. It consists of two acts and runs for approximately 107 minutes.
Metastasio wrote the libretto in 1751, basing it on a work by Torquato Tasso called Aminta. The libretto was picked up when Mozart (just 19 at the time) and his father saw a performance of it set to music composed by Felice Giardini – Mozart’s version, however was two acts rather than Giardini’s three, and has a few substantial changes. Each act lasts for around an hour in performance. The Salzburg court chaplain Varesco was largely responsible for this editing of Metastasio’s libretto.
It is often referred to not as an opera, but as a serenata, a type of dramatic cantata. The appearance of a quartet of lovers (Aminta and Elisa, Agenore and Tamiri) of somewhat dubious fidelity automatically puts a modern audience in mind of Così fan tutte. The principal psychological theme of the opera is, however, the demands of love against the demands of kingship, as Aminta, the shepherd-king, tussles with his conscience, and in this Il Re Pastore is closer in theme to Idomeneo than any other of Mozart’s operas. Indeed, Idomeneo was the next completed opera that Mozart wrote after Il Re Pastore, after his six-year-long break from the stage. Furthermore, the theme of qualities for kingship appears in another opera, La Clemenza di Tito, his last one.
From Artistic Director Christopher Mattaliano:
“All that we love about Mozart is to be found in this unique opera – and more. It was written as a special entertainment for the Archduke Maximillian, son of Maria Theresa. Being an “occasion piece,” Mozart never thought it would be performed as an opera on its own. But the music is too magnificent for it to have been left as an historical oddity.
Mozart had the best singers in Europe at his disposal and provided them with a series of stunning, breathtaking, virtuosic arias – including “L’Amero,” which may be the most beautiful aria that Mozart (or anyone) ever composed. The opera is vocal event of the highest order.
And this being Mozart – the most human and compassionate of composers with such a deep understanding of the human heart – this simple story of “love versus duty” emerges as a touching, entertaining and uplifting fable, complete with a double wedding at the end.
I chose this opera to open our second season with an evening of vocal fireworks – one that is particularly celebratory and joyful.”
From conductor Nicholas Fox:
“One of the greatest joys of being a lover of classical music–whether as practicing, professional musician or as passionate, private connoisseur–is the discovery of new repertoire, and particularly so with a familiar name. A musician can become complacent with the giants of the past, such that the musician convinces themself that, for instance, they “know” the music of Mozart exhaustively, when in reality they are exhaustively familiar with only a portion of his music.
To leap headlong into the early masterwork “Il Re Pastore”–after enough Giovanni’s and Flutes and Figaro’s and Cosi’s to last three lifetimes–is to realize that Mozart was not a musical Athena, sprung full-grown from Zeus’s head, but an artist who progressed, went through stages, became more sophisticated, more subtle, more profound. Most of all it is to realize that is possible for a composer to live only to the age of thirty-five, but still have an early period, a middle period, and a late period. This is early Mozart, just as there is early Beethoven, who lived to fifty-six, and there is early Verdi, who lived to eighty-seven.
What is early Mozart? It is music of a stunning, bold, profligate skill and humanity. It is the music of a born dramatist, a born philosopher, a born psychologist. To be sure, he was to advance later to summits of psychological insight and musical sophistication and coloristic specificity, with not a little help from both time and the profoundly rich texts of Lorenzo Da Ponte. But even here, at age nineteen, setting the simple story of a lowly shepherd who is pure of heart and, unsuspectingly, heir to a throne–and who wins the day against the temptations of power and wickedness through the fibrous bonds of love–Mozart bestows on these archetypal characters music of elan, empathy, ebullience, sadness, and life, in the deepest sense of that last word.
There has ever been a debate over whether this work was intended as a fully staged opera or as a “dramatized serenade” (what we might think of as a semi-staged concert performance). This debate only arose in the first place because of the simplicity of the story itself. What isn’t debatable is that the music Mozart gives us is wholly operatic–even if it is waiting, like a horse at the gate, for that libretto that will give it free rein to gallop at full artistic speed.
A performance of “Il Re Pastore” is more than merely a curiosity; more than the interesting venture of the operatic completist wanting to shine a light on an obscure corner of musical antiquity. On the contrary, a performance of “Il Re Pastore” is a major event, for it is a glimpse into the wondrous adolescence of the single greatest musical dramatist who has ever graced the Earth.”
From stage director Dan Rigazzi:
“Our production is set in the Pan-Mediterranean present and wrestles with timely questions about authenticity, identity, gender roles, and what makes a good, just leader. The question at the heart of this opera—can you be true to yourself and thrive in the public sphere? — is just as timely now as it was 200 years ago. Mozart masterfully brings to life this comic tale of young love and royalty in disguise with his own unique ability to plumb the depths of the human soul.”