Il re pastore, Opera by W., A. Mozart
In his youth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart enjoyed the steady patronage of several Salzburg Archbishops and composed a number of works for their private functions. Il re pastore, an opera seria first debuted at the Archbishops’s Palace in Salzburg on 23 April 1775, was one of these early gems, and it enjoys a new life on the stage of Venice’s Gran Teatro La Fenice this season.
Count Hieronymus von Colloredo commissioned then-19-year-old Mozart to commemorate the visit of Archduke Maximilian Francis to Salzburg with a special stage work. The young composer, still under the influence of his Italian journeys from a few years earlier, picked an Italian libretto by opera seria heavyweight Pietro Metastasio. Metastasio, in turn, had found inspiration in a play by Torquato Tasso, 1573’s Aminta. It presents the eternal conflict between personal desires and the higher callings of the state, and its pastoral charms inspired over one dozen composers to create operas around it.
Mozart finished working on Il re pastore in the record time of six weeks, producing a two-act opera which is widely considered the best dramatisation of Metastasio’s libretto. Court chaplain Giambattista Varesco took over editing duties to get the story in line with current operatic standards. The final work shines with Mozart’s trademark free-flowing melodies and engaging orchestration, characterised by smoothly alternating fast and slow passages.
The plot of Il re pastore, or The Shepherd King, unfolds during the grand conquests of Alexander the Great, or King Alessandro as the character is named here. Having dethroned Sidon’s tyrannical despot Stratone, Alessandro is now looking for the throne’s rightful heir. He finds him in the simple shepherd Aminta, whose father was once overthrown by the belligerent Stratone. Aminta now finds himself torn between the duties of his kingdom and the desires of his heart.
Alessandro’s plan to reinstate Aminta to the Sidonian throne includes a politically motivated marriage between the shepherd and Tamiri, Stratone’s daughter. However, since neither Aminta nor Tamiri want to go through with the plan and vocally declare their love for other people, Alessandro is forced to abandon his strategy and give his blessings to the Shepherd King and his true love, the shepherdess Elisa.
Mozart explores the old-fashioned pastoral theme of Il re pastore with his characteristic musical vivaciousness. Aminta’s persuasive, inspiring aria ‘L'amerò, sarò costante’ is a definite highlight in the jubilant, life-affirming score that will ring across the stage of Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice!