…a triumph

The Oxford Times, October 2008

In keeping with their commitment to staging rare 18th-century opera, Bampton Clasical Opera directors Jeremy Gray and Gilly French have this year resurrected Mozart’s Apollo and Hyacinth, which they first staged as a joint education project with Queen’s College in London last year, and performed at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire earlier this summer. On Saturday the opera enjoyed another outing, this time at Wotton House, near Aylesbury, a venue that suits Bampton’s small forces exceptionally well.

Apollo and Hyacinth may seem immature compared to Mozart’s later works — Don Giovanni it ain’t — but that’s hardly surprising when you discover that he wrote the piece at the age of 11. Yes, 11 — child prodigy stuff indeed. Suggestions that he may have had help from his father, Leopold, seem a little churlish, but probably hold more than an element of truth. Still, it hardly matters — the piece is entertaining enough, with some glorious music, plenty of comic moments, and enough tension to keep things swinging along.

The plot is based on the ancient myth of the transformation of Hyacinth, son of Oebalus, the King of Lacedaemonia, into a flower, after being killed by his jealous friend, Zephyr — who, just to complicate things, is also hoping to marry Hyacinth’s sister, the beautiful Melia. However, it is the god Apollo who eventually wins Melia’s hand, after having the murderous Zephyr carried away by the winds.

Gilly French’s new English translation occasionally jarred a little, and there were some rather clumsy attempts at humour — such as Apollo, disguised as a shepherd, entering with a toy lamb on wheels. But musically, the production was a triumph. Among a strong cast, tenor Tom Raskin stood out as an imposing and powerfully-sung Oebalus, but I also liked Martene Grimson’s spirited Melia, while Serena Kay (Apollo), Amanda Pitt (Hyacinth) and Lina Markeby (Zephyrus) made the most of the comic possibilities of their roles.

Nicola Lisle