A Rural Love Story

Spirited melodies and a simple story: a refreshing Mozart opera even today

Bastien and Bastienne

Piccolo Teatro del Baraccano, Bologna 2012 Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi
1768
Vienna
Bastien and Bastienne

Bastien and Bastienne

Piccolo Teatro del Baraccano, Bologna 2012 Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi

Leopold Mozart was relentlessly on the lookout for commissions for his talented son. But times were hard. During the second journey to Vienna disappointment followed disappointment, with no commissions in sight. Finally, the family was excited to receive a commission from a music aficionado – the Viennese doctor Franz Anton Mesmer. He gave Mozart the text for a musical comedy in German: “Bastien and Bastienne”.

According to contemporary custom, it was a genre that was known as Opéra comique, or according to Mozart’s father an “Operetta”. Even at this age Mozart tinkered with the story – with the help of Johann Andreas Schachtner, a friend of his father – until he liked the libretto and felt ready to start the composition.

He immensely enjoyed his work, which becomes evident with the simple but spirited melodies. The content is also not particularly sophisticated.

Shepherdess Bastienne has a problem:

The cunning Phyllis is meddling with Bastienne’s amorous relationship with Bastien. The clairvoyant Colas advises Bastienne not to give anything away despite her jealousy. Bastien also seeks the advice of the clairvoyant to tell him of his marriage plans with Bastienne. Colas makes him believe that there is somebody else in Bastienne’s life. Bastien rages with jealousy. Bastienne – following the clairvoyant’s counsel – does not react. Bastien subsequently threatens to commit suicide and moves Bastienne’s heart.

“Bastien and Bastienne” is Mozart’s earliest musical comedy and most likely was first performed on December 7th, 1768, at the summer house of Mesmer’s mansion. The musical comedy in one act is approximately one hour long. A significantly greater challenge for Mozart was the Opera buffa “La Finta Semplice”, which Mozart composed following a suggestion by Emperor Joseph II.