About this work
In the spring of 1775, the 19-year-old Mozart was commissioned by his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, to write an opera to celebrate the visit to Salzburg of the Archduke Maximillian Franz, the youngest son of the empress Maria Theresa. The libretto chosen was Il rè pastore (The Shepherd King) by Pietro Metastasio, the most famous of all opera seria librettists. More than a quarter of a century old, it had already been set at least 14 times by other composers before being adapted for Mozart by the Archbishop's chaplain Gianbattista Varesco, later the librettist of Mozart's greatest serious opera, Idomeneo. The plot, based on Tasso's Aminta (1581), is set in the time of Alexander the Great. Having liberated Sidon from the tyrannical Stratone, Alessandro wishes to place Aminta, the rightful heir, on the throne. The latter has been living as a shepherd, happy in his love for the nymph Elisa. Alessandro's well-intentioned plan leads to a variety of misunderstandings before being happily resolved as Aminta takes the throne with Elisa as his consort. The stiff, old-fashioned plot, with its exploration of the popular Enlightenment topic of the contrast between noble duty and the innocence of pastoral life, allowed the young Mozart little opportunity for dramatic development. The opera does, however, include some fine arias, of which Aminta's "L'amero" has gained sufficient popularity to lead an independent life. Il rè pastore was first performed at the Archbishop's palace on April 23, 1775. Little is known of the first performance; the work waas variously and confusingly described in contemporary accounts as a "serenata" or "cantata." The latter designation in particular suggests that the work may even have been given a concert rather than a staged performance.