Mozart’s two-act opera, Il re pastore (“The Shepherd King”), K. 208, written to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, tells a fanciful story in which love and faithfulness triumph over ambition. The following brief synopsis is provided by Opera Online:
Alessandro, king of Macedonia (soprano), having just conquered the city of Sidon, wants it to be ruled by Aminta (soprano), the young legitimate heir who became a shepherd after he was removed from the throne by usurpers. In addition, the monarch chooses Tamiri (soprano), the daughter of the former tyrant, to be his wife. But the shepherd is passionately in love with Elisa (soprano), a simple young shepherdess.
In order to remain faithful to his beloved, Aminta objects to the king’s wishes, refuses the arranged marriage and decides to remain a shepherd. The understanding Alessandro unconditionally accepts the marriage of Aminta and Elisa. He grants Tamiri a new fiancé, his friend Agenor (tenor) and promises them the future kingdom he will conquer.
In 1775, the 19-year-old Mozart composed Il re pastore in response to a commission from the Archbishop of Salzburg. The work was written for the occasion of a royal visit by Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria, the youngest son of Empress Maria Theresa. Performed in the intimate Knight’s Hall of the Archduke’s palace, Il re pastore falls under the category of a serenata, a kind of dramatic cantata. In this early work, we can hear the seeds of Mozart’s later operas.
In the Act I aria, Aer tranquillo e di sereni (“Tranquil air and serene days”), Aminta delights in his surroundings, which include “fresh springs and green meadows.” In the aria’s middle section, he expresses confidence that, if his duties are ever to change, the Gods will change his “mind and heart.” Originally, the role of Aminta was sung by a soprano castrato. This performance features Angela Maria Blasi, accompanied by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields:
Interestingly, Aer tranquillo e di sereni formed the basis for the first movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, which was composed a few months later. Listen to the way this sunny, pastoral aria is transformed into music which develops in new directions:
The Act II aria, L’amerò sarò costante (“I shall love her, I shall be faithful”) is Aminta’s serene and glowing declaration of love to Elisa. It follows Elisa’s plea to Alessandro to not take Aminta away. Throughout the aria, the vocal line engages in a sensuous duet with the solo violin. This 2017 performance features Diana Damrau with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, led by Thomas Hengelbrock:
Filled with sparkling lines and teeming with boundless energy, the Overture to Il re pastore perfectly sets the stage for the drama which follows. We get a delightful preview of the exhilarating, continuously rising crescendo which returns in the first movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat Major. This recording is by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields: