Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Apollo et Hyacinthus - Latin intermedium in three parts K38 [76:38]
Oebalus - Andrew Kennedy (tenor); Melia - Klara Ek (soprano); Hyacinthus - Sophie Bevan (soprano); Apollo - Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor); Zephyrus - Christopher Ainslie (counter-tenor); Priests of Apollo - Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) and David Shipley (bass)
The Orchestra of Classical Opera/Ian Page
rec. Blackheath Halls, London, 13-15 August 2011
Latin text and English, German and French translations included
LINN CKD398 [76:38]
Mozart wrote Apollo et Hyacinthus in 1767 for performance at the Salzburg Grammar School as an intermedium - a short musical entertainment - separating Acts of the school play. The libretto by Father Widl, Professor of Syntax at Salzburg University, was based loosely on an episode in Ovid. It tells of the rivalry between Zephyrus and the disguised god Apollo for the love of Melia, daughter of King Oebalus. Hyacinthus, Melia’s brother and a friend of Zephyrus, is killed by the latter during a game of discus. Zephyrus blames it on Apollo who punishes him by turning him into a wind. Hyacinthus, discovered to be dying rather than dead, explains that it was the fault of Zephyrus. Apollo turns Hyacinthus into a flower and expresses his hope of marrying Melia.
Although this is hardly the most dramatic or involving of plots it did provide Mozart with plenty of dramatic situations suitable for music. It was Mozart’s first real opera and even at eleven he showed himself able to provide striking and inventive music for each of them. It is assured and, to a surprising degree, memorable, especially in the two duets and in his occasional use of divided violas.
Ian Page and Classical Opera have long experience of this work. I remember seeing them perform it at the Buxton Festival in 2006 with a different cast. Like them, the present cast have a full understanding of the potential dramatic power of the work. There are no weak links, with all making the most of the musical and dramatic opportunities provided. If I mention Andrew Kennedy and Klara Ek specifically, it is simply to praise their outstanding contributions rather than to suggest any deficiencies in the singing of Sophie Bevan, Christopher Ainslie or Lawrence Zazzo. The orchestra, very properly named in full in the booklet, play with gusto and sensitivity. One especially welcome feature is the use of the cello to play spread chords in the recitatives leaving the double bass to play the bass line.
Mention of the recitatives does however bring me to the question of their length. In an opera lasting only some 77 minutes, nearly a third is taken up with sections of recitative in Latin. Even performed as dramatically as they are, and with the fascinating cello chords, this may prove something one would not want to hear repeatedly. That is easily accomplished albeit with the result that one listens to a series of arias and ensembles rather than to an opera, but that is a matter for the listener to choose.
The recording and presentation of the set could hardly be improved, with articles on the opera and its performance and the text and translations in full. The only regrettable omission is that of any biographical information on the singers. Some is available on a film on the Linn website but when the singers are as good as this it is at least a discourtesy on the part of Linn not to include something in the lengthy booklet.
That is however the only fault I can find in this splendid version of an unfairly neglected work. I must admit to finding it and other early Mozart operas uncompelling in the past but that is emphatically not the case here. I cannot imagine a better start to Linn’s intended series of recordings of Mozart’s operas by Classical Opera.  

John Sheppard
I cannot imagine a better start to Linn’s intended series of recordings of Mozart’s operas by Classical Opera.