Monday, August 20, 2012

Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus – Neo-Baroqus in Extremus

This certainly is beautiful music. But, honestly, if it hadn’t been written by our little Wolferl, we wouldn’t be talking about it now, would we? This is traditional opera seria with standard (long) da capo aria types: joy, rage, hate, sadness, etc. There are two duets and a trio, which is a surprise, and some nifty accompanied recitative.
Most exquisite is the duet, accompanied by muted strings and horns, as Oebelus and Melia mourn the death of Hyacinthus. There is also a lovely trio to conclude the opera. What is really surprising to me about the music is that the soprano and alto parts were written for students: boys under the age of 15. The tenor and bass parts were sung by young men who were around 19 or 20.   

Oebelus and Melia mourn.

Director John Dew actually is an opera director (so many of these M22 productions were directed by non-opera directors). Dew decided to go neo-Baroque here—not a re-creation, per se, but a 21st Century take on the Baroque opera seria style. He started with classic conventions of Baroque opera, working with the cast on traditional poses and gestures that had specific meaning to the Baroque audience.
Realizing that 21st Century audiences would not readily interpret these classic movements, Dew allowed the singers to create their own Baroque-like movements and poses to convey their emotions.  Costumes and décor are based on Baroque tradition, too. The stage settings, curtains, and flats are charming; the costumes and makeup go a bit over the top.
So is this Regieoper? Not in the sense of a director overlaying a whole new interpretation.  Only in the sense that the director followed through with a theme, which I would call “Über-Baroque”—super-stylized park and bark in extreme: very colorful, and fun to watch.
In this context of formality, I think that Zephyrus overacts. We know he is supposed to be jealous, but his behavior is cartoonish compared to the other singers. Maybe this is to separate him as the villain, but I found it annoying. Actually, as the opera progresses, everyone plays it slightly more realistically. I am not sure if this was intentional or if the singers got more involved in the drama. They do seem to “formal up” again for the final trio.
This is a cast of young singers recorded in 2006; and I suspect some of them have become bigger names in European opera in the meantime.  The sopranos and tenor are strong. The mezzos sound nice but neither has enough power in her lower range. The cast is supported ably by crisp, clean Baroque playing from the Sinfonieorchester der Universität Mozarteum, under the direction of Josef Wallnig.
My recommendation for this disc is to rent or borrow it. While it’s fun and pleasant, I don’t think most people are going to want to watch more than once or twice.


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