Notes and Editorial Reviews
The 19-year-old Mozart wrote Il re pastore for the visit of an archduke; its plot, based on hypothetical moments from the life of Alexander the Great, seemed a suitable subject. Alessandro discovers that the heir to the throne of Sidon, which he has recently conquered, actually is the shepherd, Aminta, who is in love with the noble Elisa. But Alessandro wants Aminta to marry Tamiri, the daughter of the late usurper to the Sidonese throne, not realizing that Tamiri loves Agenore, Alessandro's counselor. When Aminta denounces the throne in favor of love for Elisa, Alessandro relents--and that's how Aminta becomes il re pastore, the shepherd king.
The opera was performed once. As you can see, there's nothing particularly heroic
about it; despite its concerns with domination and true love, it's a pastoral serenata, with lovely melodies and some virtuoso requirements from the singers. Two of its arias, both sung by Aminta (originally a castrato role, now invariably taken by a female soprano)--"Aer tranquillo" (whose opening moments were used by the composer a few months later for his violin concerto, K. 216) and "L'amero, saro costante", with its ravishing violin obbligato--are famous. The rest of the numbers are less so, although a handful for tenor should be better known and would be if they weren't so jammed with coloratura. This recording was made at the 2006 Salzburg Festival, where all of the composer's operas were performed.
The physical production, by Mirella Weingarten, and stage direction by Thomas Hengelbrock (who also conducts) are odd but engaging. We first see the five singers in street clothes in front of a stage curtain picking cards from a box. One gets a card with a crown, two have hearts, etc.--these are the roles they'll play when the curtain is drawn.
Behind the white curtain all is pastoral in black-and-white cutouts--gamboling sheep, trees and hillocks--and the costumes and wigs are in black and white as well. With the reduced playing area and "stagy", posed movements, it's clear that what we're looking at is meant to be a type of puppet show, an allegory, play-within-a-play. Characters singing arias are observed from outside the playing area by the others. With their exaggerated movements, the in-stage characters play out the feelings of our kings and shepherds--Alessandro, in front of our eyes, starts out as a playful kid who cares little of others' feelings and learns to be a wise ruler. It's all kept light and seems gloriously low-budget: the emphasis is on brightness and pointed delivery.
And since the same man who directed the action also directs the music, this sheen and direct approach are all-of-a-piece. Thomas Hengelbrock is a name new to me (he made his debut in '93 and is well known in northern Europe for both conducting and directing) as is the Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble. Hengelbrock leads the splendid band with such verve and feel for the early-Mozart idiom that nothing seems out of place. A timpani riff accompanying a cadenza in an aria of Alessandro's in the first act is a terrific improvisation (embellishment?) and has an utterly natural feel while at the same time making a grand surprise. The brass blares triumphantly and the woodwinds are alternately sweet and tart. Attacks are sharp--indeed, the brief overture practically smashes its way into the opera.
But while Hengelbrock is getting as much drama out of what arguably is not a very dramatic piece, he also realizes how essentially lyrical the work is. Soprano Annette Dasch's Aminta is glorious. There's a bit of an edge to her voice, but her handling of coloratura is masterly, and as the king, she is poised and sure of her/himself. The embellished cadenza in "L'amero..." is a doozie. Kresimir Spicer's tenor Alessandro is boyish/manly, and if his handling of the fiorature is a bit rough, it's still very good and his attitude toward the role is right-on. Soprano Marlis Petersen is a gentle Elisa, while mezzo Arpiné Rahdjian's Tamiri seems somewhat at sea. Andreas Karasiak, the cast's other tenor (Agenore) has a timbre that isn't always agreeable, but he's as convincing as the others in his role as The Wise One.
The picture and sound (PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1) are superb; subtitles are in major European languages. A relatively well-sung, traditional, and a bit stodgy performance available on Philips and taped at the 1989 Salzburg Festival is this one's only competition, and it stands up well (under Neville Marriner). But we've come a long way in Mozart interpretation, and most listeners will prefer Hengelbrock's period instruments and approach, as well as his singers' greater fluidity with coloratura.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Il rè pastore, K 208 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Andreas Karasiak (Tenor),
Arpiné Rahdjian (Soprano),
Annette Dasch (Soprano),
Kresimir Spicer (Tenor),
Marlis Petersen (Soprano)
Written: 1775; Salzburg, Austria
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