Metastasio and Mozart
Buxton International Festival
Buxton Opera House
July 9-20, 2023. 2 hrs 10 mins
The Buxton Festival’s second operatic own-production this year, Il Re Pastore, is pretty modest. Five characters, no chorus, no set in the normal sense of the word, but some colourful outdoor video photography by director Jack Furness, projected at the rear of the stage.
That’s appropriate enough, for this “serenata” by the young Mozart is a pastoral, as the title implies, and the nominal setting of Sidon hardly matters.
Modest, then, but brilliantly sung. The score is entirely formal, with da capo arias following passages of recitative that tell the story. Everyone gets their turn, and the vocal writing is florid and demanding, besides encouraging extra technical display in the repeats and closing cadenzas. The youthful cast, under Adrian Kelly’s expert direction, is completely up for this, and it’s all lively and stylish, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra in the pit.
The story is that Alessandro (Alexander the Great, as you and I know him) has defeated the wrongful tyrant of Sidon and wants to find the true heir to the throne, who we know is living as a shepherd lad called Aminta in the countryside in blissful innocence, alongside his young shepherdess sweetheart, Elise. The ex-tyrant’s daughter, Tamiri, is also disguised as a shepherdess, but Alessandro’s right-hand man, Agenore, knows that and is in love with her. When her identity comes out, Alessandro decides the smart political thing is to get Aminta married to Tamiri… So the course of true love is not going to run smooth. Of course it all ends happily, as enlightened potentates in Mozart’s operas always have a heart for young lovers.
Designer Hannah Wolfe, having no set to worry about, has gone to town on the costumes, which present Alessandro in 18th century military get-up, Agenore in wig and dress coat, the shepherding types in bucolic style (though Elise is more like Marie Antoinette’s concept of a shepherdess than most), and Tamiri as eventually transformed into a gracious lady of the court, with a fabulous hat and hair-do.
The singing by Joseph Doody as Alessandro, Olivia Carroll as Tamiri, and George Curnow as Agenore is all high quality, but there is something more for Ellie Neate (Elise) and Katie Coventry (Aminta – it’s a trouser role) to get their teeth into.
The score was formal, but Mozart really let himself go with two arias in the second act: the first is Barbaro! for Elise, full of passion and fury – including a slap in the face for the poor Agenore; the second is Aminta’s final love song for Elise, L'amero, saro costante, with the baroque tones of oboi d'amore in the orchestra and a violin solo creating a gorgeous instrumental tapestry (and a final accompanied cadenza). Those were moments of glory.
More info and tickets here