- Apollo et Hyacinthus, opera, K. 38
Mozart's reputation as a prodigy is so familiar that it's easy to forget how remarkable it is that an 11 year old could write an opera on the scale of the hour-long "Apollo et Hyacinthus," not only in terms of the creativity and breadth of imagination required, but the discipline demanded to simply physically write out such a large score. Again, his precociousness is so taken for granted that it seems hardly surprising that it would actually be a good opera, when in fact the quality of its music should be regarded as stupendously astonishing if not almost miraculous. The opera, with a libretto in Latin, was commissioned by a Salzburg grammar school to be performed as an intermedium -- a light diversion -- performed between the acts of a Latin drama. (Another mind-boggling fact: at the premiere, the leads were sung by 12-year olds, and all the parts except for a tenor role were written for treble voices and performed by teenagers, even though Mozart's vocal writing is no less demanding than that of his mature opera seria.) Dramatically the opera may not be the most riveting, but it's comparable to mythological opera plots of the period. The vocal and orchestral writing is never less than fully accomplished and mature, and the score is replete with beautiful arias and ensembles as memorable as Mozart's later work. The duet, "Natus cadit, atque Deus," for tenor and soprano, in particular, is ravishingly sensuous and is alone worth the price of the album; Mozart's felicitous, unexpected turns of phrase send chills down the spine. Each of the five soloists has a distinctive an arresting aria, and their expressive range demonstrates the composer's innate gift for dramatic writing. The radiant, valedictory finale has an emotional complexity that foreshadows the closing of "The Marriage of Figaro." Ian Page leads the Orchestra of Classical Opera in a fabulous, spirited, and nuanced reading of the score. The soloists are all very fine, and soprano Klara Ek, countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, and tenor Andrew Kennedy are standouts for the brilliance and expressiveness of their singing. The recording is the first in a propitious collaboration with Bärenreiter-Verlag Kassel in a major cycle of Mozart operas for the estimable Linn label. It's an excellent start to the project and leaves the listener eagerly awaiting more installments.