Disappointed Hopes

A Homage to Archduke Maximilian: “Il Re Pastore”

Il re pastore

Salzburg Festival 2006 Photo: Karl Forster
Il re pastore: Alessandro and Elisa

Il re pastore: Alessandro and Elisa

Salzburg Festival 2006 Photo: Karl Forster

Times were hard for musicians in Salzburg in 1775. The economical Prince-Archbishop Colloredo closed the Residenz Theatre. Into this chilling situation burst the news that the 19-year-old Archduke Maximilian would pass through Salzburg. Perhaps a chance would open for Wolfgang Mozart?

In a hurry, the opera by Mozart “Il Re Pastore” (The Shepherd King) was composed in homage to the archduke.

Phoenician Confusion

The story is set in Phoenicia in 334 BC. Aminta is the rightful king of Phoenicia, but he is ignorant of his legacy and lives in the country as a simple shepherd. Alessandro has just liberated the city of Sidon and wishes to reinstate Aminta as the king. Aminta listens to the news, but as he is required to marry the daughter of the overthrown potentate instead of his beloved Elisa Tamiri, he refuses to ascend to the throne. Deeply impressed by true love, Alessandro finally allows the marriage of Aminta and Elisa.

This opera by Mozart dispenses with dramatic effects and bombast while still regaining freshness and vitality. Its simple structure - the overture only has one phrase - is one of the main differences with the other Mozart operas. One of the reasons for this may have been the fact that Wolfgang Mozart only had a little time at his disposal for the composition. After all, he had to abide with the wishes of the archbishop.

Archduke Maximilian listened obligingly to the small opera, but did not offer employment to Wolfgang Mozart. Amadeus grew more and more dissatisfied with his situation in Salzburg: “I live in a country, where luck does not smile on music.