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Maximilian may well have known the text, for it was his mother who commissioned it in 1751 (albeit five years before his own birth), so that her elder children might perform it at court. A homely additional detail regarding the occasion is that the youthful Archduke, presumably here making one of his first state visits, was born in the same year as Mozart and, at eighteen, was just ten and a half months younger than the composer. For Archbishop Colloredo it must have been a bewilderment of teenagers.
In essence this 'pastoral' tale -- one of the first rural delights was the pair of sheep parading tamely across the Garsington dais to set the scene -- is the sort of story Mozart was already treating competently by the age of twelve. Unlike La finta gardiniera (which has seven) there are the regulation five roles, dictated usually by economics: two pairs of aspiring lovers and a presiding Don Alfonso character: in this case Alexander the Great, posing as a prototype Enlightenment monarch, but needing still to learn the ropes and then qualities needed to achieve that aspired-to role. This Alex is evidently still on a learning curve.
Cora Burggraaf as the young Shepherd King Aminta. Photo © 2007 Johan Persson
Two of the lovers, Amynta (the good-looking, versatile, sufficiently boy-like Dutch mezzo Cora Burggraaf, an established Cherubino, Susanna, Zerlina and Papagena, and versed in Britten and Tippett as well) and Elisa (the homely Lucy Crowe, Opera North's Susanna and in Monteverdi both a Drusilla and, like Burggraaf, a proven Poppea) are true sweethearts, whom politics threaten to sunder when Alexander (Iain Paton) decrees that Amynta is the rightful King of Sidon, in Phoenicia (nowadays Lebanon) and must of duty marry elsewhere.
Copyright © 15 July 2007
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK