APOLLO ET HYACINTHUS SEU HYACINTHI METAMORPHOSIS
- Music for a Latin comedy
- Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Libretto: Father Rufinus Widl, partly drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses
- First performed: University of Salzburg, 13 May 1767
Apollo, god of grace, lord of light and beauty, smiles on Mozart’s earliest complete opera. Phoebus, but not feeble, one might say.
Mozart was still a child when he wrote this little work, performed between the acts of a play at the University of Salzburg’s end-of-term festivities, by the Gymnasium students.
Apollo et Hyacinthus impressed the school’s director. “The music for it, composed by Wolfgang Mozart, a child of 11, delighted everyone, and at night he gave us notable proofs of his musical art at the harpsichord.”
The story is a Bowdlerised version of Ovid. In the original, Apollo and Zephyrus, the west wind, both love the youth Hyacinthus. When the lad chooses the god, the jealous Zephyrus slays him with a javelin. The bereaved god transforms his body into the hyacinth flower, whose petals, the Greeks believed, expressed his grief: AI AI.
No homosexuality in the adaptation by Father Rufinus Widl, Salzburg’s Professor of Syntax. Here, Apollo and Zephyrus are rivals for Hyacinthus’s sister, Melia.
Of course it’s a minor work. Einstein passes over it in a sentence, as not worth occupying his time; Osborne more fairly judges it “a pleasant piece of Salzburg baroque which has plenty of equals and indeed superiors among the works produced by local composers of the time” – but notes occasional hints of the mature composer.
Melia (sung by a boy soprano) takes part in the opera’s three best numbers, beginning with “Laetari, iocari”, a joyous, ornately decorated, allegro aria.
The glories of the opera are two duets. In the intense “Discede, crudelis!”, Melia accuses Apollo of her brother’s murder; her phrases are frenzied, her line wayward, while the god’s vocal line is sweeter, calmer, more reasonable.
Melia and her father Oebalus grieve in the slow, moving, lament “Natus cadit”. Competence in a child would be remarkable enough; at 11, Mozart had already touched the sublime.
Listen to: Andrew Kennedy (Oebalus), Klara Ek (Melia), Sophie Bevan (Hyacinthus), Lawrence Zazzo (Apollo), Christopher Ainslie (Zephyrus), Marcus Farnsworth, David Shipley (Priests of Apollo), with Ian Page conducting the Orchestra of Classical Opera, London, 2011. Linn Records.
- Alfred Einstein, Mozart: his character – his work, trans. Arthur Mendel and Nathan Broder, London: Cassell, 1946
- Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Mozart, London: Victor Gollancz, 1978
- Ian Page, “Apollo et Hyacinthus – an introduction”, Linn Records.