Il re pastore, Opera by W. A. Mozart
Settling back into his native Salzburg after a tour of Italy, young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced a number of stage works for his main patron, the Archbishop. Although they do not rival the popularity of his later creations, each carries his inimitable style and fantastic sense of melody. The quaint opera seria Il re pastore (The Shepherd King) is one of these special early works, playing at the Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice this season.
The 19-year-old Mozart received a commission from the Archbishop of Salzburg, Count Hieronymus von Colloredo, to compose an opera to mark the official state visit of Archduke Maximilian Francis. The young composer completed his task in six weeks, and Il re pastore had its debut on 23 April 1775 at the Archbishop’s Palace in Salzburg, to the delight of the high-ranking guests present.
Il re pastore relies on a 1751 libretto by Italian master wordsmith Pietro Metastasio, a big name in the opera seria genre. The source text was Torquato Tasso’s early play Aminta. It takes us back to the times of Alexander the Great who, on his latest quest, has vanquished the tyrant Stratone and is now looking for the rightful king of Sidon. King Alessandro quickly finds out Aminta, seemingly a simple shepherd, is the heir to Sidonian throne.
Aminta’s sudden rise puts strain on his relationship with the shepherdess Elisa, as Alessandro proposes a marriage between the new king and Tamiri, Stratone’s daughter, to ensure a peaceful and permanent transition of power. Neither Tamiri nor Aminta want that, each of them in love with someone else. After much drama, King Alessandro’s legendary wisdom and sense of justice take precedence, and Aminta ascends the throne of Sidon with his true love Elisa by his side.
Il re pastore’s libretto had served more than a dozen composers before Mozart approached it, but his version is still the most widely accepted operatic incarnation of the quintessentially pastoral story. The young Austrian genius managed to take a dusty, stiff plot about the conflict between stately duties and true love and make it entertaining and truly emotional when he needed it. In classic Mozart fashion, the melodies are fresh and enthralling – watch out of Aminta’s love-affirming aria, ‘L'amerò, sarò costante’. Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice dusts off another early Mozart classic!