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Mozart, Il re pastore: The Royal Opera in the Linbury Studio Theatre, 13.4.06 (ED)

Aminta: Katie Van Kooten (soprano)*
Elisa: Ana James (soprano)*
Alessandro: Peter Bronder (tenor)
Agenor: Robert Murray (tenor)*
Tamiri: Anna Leese (soprano)
English Baroque Soloists
Edward Gardner, conductor

* Participants in the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme

Director, set designs and lighting: John Lloyd Davies
Costumes: Susanne Hubrich


Il re pastore can be said to be a work of transition for Mozart in several respects. The music is noticeably more in his own style than in the stage works that preceded it (Lucio Silla, Ascanio in Alba and La finta giardiniera) whilst testing the limits of 18th-century operatic convention. The work itself shows the sowing of seeds that would bear fruit in Idomeneo and Così fan tutte, both of which marry moral questions to musical complexities of extraordinary richness.

When Mozart set Metastasio’s libretto in 1775 for the visit of Archduke Maximillian to Salzburg it had already been set by some 13 composers, though Mozart’s setting shows some textual alterations to increase dramatic possibilities, not least the inclusion of a suitable closing quintet to honour the royal visitor. Due in part to the lack of an opera house in Salzburg Mozart never saw the work staged, but when done sensitively it is possible to bring out the dramatic possibilities even though both characters and plot prove themselves ‘squeaky clean’ in every respect. Aminta, a shepherd, is found by Allessandro to be the rightful king of Sidon, a country he has just conquered. Aminta’s love for Elisa, a peasant girl, is thwarted by Allessandro’s desire to marry him to Tamiri, who is secretly loved by Agenor, Allessandro’s aide. That Allessandro accepts true love and nobleness of action as of greater value than kingship is the final outcome, as he unites both pairs according to their wishes.


Being of perfect scale for the Linbury Studio Theatre, this production lacked nothing in the dedication of the cast to present a cogent case for the work. With stage direction that was well conceived one could sense the dilemmas faced by the characters as much through their actions as their singing, adding emotional depth to the evening. Occasionally some aspects of the production seemed contrived to the point of distracting from the action: why in moments of decision was Allessandro standing upon a platform surrounded by arrow carrying soldiers?

Such things however could not detract from the obvious musical merits of this production. Katie Van Kooten consolidated her burgeoning reputation as a rising star soprano with a portrayal of Aminta that was sung and acted with ardour. Her voice being of slightly fuller tone than that of Ana James, who projected honest femininity with ease, lent their duet passages particular credibility. Robert Murray’s Agenor was also well assumed and solidly voiced, and particularly in Act II succeeded in suggesting internal frustrations when words were denied him. If one needed reminding of the value of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, these three artists gave it in spades.

The other two sung roles were also taken by singers of note. Anna Leese as Tamiri was vocally polished and forthright in her acting. Peter Bronder’s Allessandro was something of an acquired taste given his occasionally effortful vocal production, however he lacked for little in terms of dynamism.

The English Baroque Soloists provided robust support for proceedings and playing of quality with piquant contributions from winds and brass, which in particular helped to bring out the textural qualities inherent in the scoring of Act II. Edward Gardner, English National Opera’s recently appointed music director designate, directed with unfailing vitality to give a reading that was full of dramatic energy, yet also showed awareness that as a chamber opera the dynamic should relax for moments of inner reflection. Just as the opera shows Mozart’s compositional qualities in the making, this production is worth hearing for the music and the young team of performers who deliver it most affectionately.

Evan Dickerson

© Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, photographer, Johan Persson




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)