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Apollo et Hyacinthus


At the tender age of just 11 years old, the prodigious Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed “Apollo et Hyacinthus.”

Apollo et Hyacinthus by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Apollo et Hyacinthus

Apollo et Hyacinthus is Mozart’s very first opera. He wrote it when he was 11, and it was in Latin.

Though written for a young cast (aged 12-23), it stands as a significant milestone in his artistic development.

While astonishing for an eleven-year-old, Mozart’s exceptional childhood experiences make it less surprising.

This early opera showcases the budding genius who would later revolutionize opera with timeless masterpieces like The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni.

While not as frequently performed as his later works, Apollo et Hyacinthus remains a fascinating addition to his extraordinary body of work.

What’s truly remarkable is how quickly the age of the composer fades when compared to operas written by established composers like Joseph Haydn or Christoph Willibald Gluck.

The quality speaks for itself.

Apollo et Hyacinthus

“Apollo et Hyacinthus,” K. 38, is an opera written in 1767 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was only 11 years old at the time.

It is considered Mozart’s first true opera. The work displays the young Mozart’s burgeoning operatic prowess, even though it was not a fully independent operatic work.

The opera is in three acts and is based on the Greek myths of Hyacinth and Apollo, as told by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses.

The opera was part of a much larger work, which has caused debate as to whether this can be considered Mozart’s first ‘operatic work.’

Many historians consider it operatic because it is a secular drama composed of five arias, two duets, a chorus, and a trio, connected with recitative.

The story involves Apollo accidentally killing his lover, a boy named Hyacinth, with one of his stray discus throws.

The discus throw was encouraged by Apollo’s rival, Zephyrus, who was jealous of his affair with Hyacinth. A grief-stricken Apollo then causes a gorgeous flower to bloom from Hyacinth’s grave.

The opera was commissioned for the Benedictine University in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg.

These annual “final comoedia” performances were undertaken by the university’s Gymnasium students, and Mozart’s contribution, though not a fully independent operatic work, was nonetheless an impressive display of his burgeoning musical talents.

Mozart’s father, Leopold, was a notable name at the university, as many of his pupils were enrolled in the university high school, where theater played a large role in the curriculum.

History Behind Apollo et Hyacinthus

Young Mozart took his first steps in opera at the age of 11, when he received a commission to compose Apollo et Hyacinthus.

Drawing inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the eleven-year-old Mozart composed this roughly 70-minute opera.

The opera consists of five arias, two duets, a chorus, and a trio, connected by recitative.

This wasn’t a standalone operatic work but rather a part of a much larger academic production.

This has led to some debate among historians as to whether it can truly be considered Mozart’s first “operatic” endeavor.

The work was originally composed as an “intermedia” for the annual end-of-term “final comoedia” at the Benedictine University (now the University of Salzburg) in his hometown of Salzburg.

(Note: An intermedia is a short musical drama performed between the acts of a larger play.)

The work’s performance impressed the school’s director, who remarked:

“The music for it, composed by Wolfgang Mozart, a child of 11, delighted everyone, and at night he gave us notable proofs of his musical art at the harpsichord.”

The main work being performed was a five-act tragedy titled Clementia Croesi, written by the university’s philosophy professor, Rufinius Widl.

Widl’s tragedy dealt with the accidental death of the son of the King of Lydia, and Mozart’s Apollo et Hyacinthus was designed to parallel this theme.

It draws inspiration from the Greek myth of Apollo’s accidental killing of his lover, Hyacinth, with a stray discus throw.

In Widl’s adaptation, the controversial homosexual love triangle was removed.

However, the characters of Hyacinth’s father, Oebalus, and his sister, Melia, were retained.

This was added as the new source of Apollo’s affections and Zephyr’s jealousy.


This performance of the work, though a great success, was only given once during Mozart’s lifetime. However, it remains an important milestone in the composer’s early development and a testament to his prodigious talents.

Besides, it was not until after the composer’s death that his sister, Nannerl, entered the work into Leopold Mozart’s catalog, giving it the distinguishing title “Apollo und Hyacinth.”

Apollo et Hyacinthus Role and Voice Type

In opera, a singer’s voice type (categorized by range, timbre, and ability) often determines their roles.

Here’s a breakdown of the roles and corresponding voice types in Mozart’s “Apollo et Hyacinthus”:

RoleVoice Type
Oebalus, King of LacedaemoniaTenor
Melia, Oebalus’s daughterBoy soprano (en travesti)
Hyacinthus, Oebalus’s sonBoy soprano
First Priest of ApolloBass
Second Priest of ApolloBass
Zephyrus, Hyacinthus’s confidantBoy contralto
Apollo, entertained by Oebalus as his guestBoy contralto

Plot Outline

The opera is based on the Greek myth of Hyacinth and Apollo, as told by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses.

The story revolves around Apollo, who accidentally kills his lover Hyacinth with a stray discus, a tragic event orchestrated by the jealous Zephyrus.

Act 1: A Tempestuous Prologue Foreshadows Dramatic Events

The opera “Apollo et Hyacinthus” begins with a short overture in D major, setting the stage for the unfolding drama.

The prologue then opens with Hyacinth confiding in Zephyr about his attachment to Apollo and Zephyr’s own jealousy over the situation.

Next, we are introduced to King Oebalus and his daughter Melia as they prepare a sacrifice to Apollo at an altar.

However, a sudden storm brews, and lightning strikes the altar, destroying it. Oebalus’s son assures his father that they have done nothing to incur Apollo’s wrath.

Towards the end of the prologue, Apollo himself appears, disguised as a shepherd.

He reveals that he has been banished by Jupiter and asks for Oebalus’s friendship, which the king readily grants.

Amidst this, a mutual attraction begins to develop between Melia and the disguised Apollo, and he soon asks Melia for evidence of her love for him.

This tempestuous prologue sets the stage for the dramatic events to come, hinting at the complex web of relationships and divine interventions that will unfold over the course of the opera.

Mozart’s skilled handling of this opening section showcases the compositional maturity of the 11-year-old prodigy.

Act 2: Tragedy Strikes as Loyalties Shift

In Act 2, King Oebalus informs his daughter Melia that the god Apollo has requested her hand in marriage, news that fills Melia with joy.

However, this bliss is quickly shattered when Zephyr arrives with the devastating news that, while playing in the woods, Apollo had accidentally struck Hyacinth, Oebalus’s son, in the head with a discus, fatally wounding him.

Overcome with rage, Oebalus orders Apollo to be banished from the kingdom. In an aside to the audience, Zephyr confesses his own guilt in the matter but eagerly carries out Oebalus’s command.

He then proceeds to make inappropriate advances on the grieving Melia, taking advantage of Apollo’s absence. However, Melia firmly rejects Zephyr’s overtures.

Just as Zephyr continues his unwanted pursuit of Melia, Apollo himself appears and professes his innocence over Hyacinth’s death.

In a display of divine power, Apollo then transforms Zephyr into a wind, punishing him for his treachery.

Nonetheless, the heartbroken Melia still believes Apollo to be responsible for her brother’s demise and begins to spurn the god’s affections, further complicating the tangled web of relationships at the heart of the opera.

This act showcases Mozart’s masterful handling of shifting loyalties, tragic twists, and the interplay of divine and mortal forces.

Act 3: Tragic Revelations, Divine Intervention, and a Bittersweet Resolution

The final act of “Apollo et Hyacinthus” opens with Hyacinth, on his deathbed, revealing to his father Oebalus the true cause of his fatal injury—the jealous Zephyr’s treachery.

Oebalus is devastated as he watches his own son succumb to his wounds, now realizing Zephyr’s guilt in the matter.

Melia then enters and informs her father that she has already rejected Apollo’s advances, unaware of the new information about Zephyr’s culpability.

Oebalus and Melia are overcome with a sense of misfortune, lamenting the loss of Apollo’s divine favor.

It is at this moment that Apollo himself reappears, declaring that love has compelled him to return to Melia.

As a sign of divine reconciliation, beautiful flowers suddenly rose from Hyacinth’s grave. 

Apollo then formally engages himself with Melia and pledges that his divine protection will ensure the perpetual prosperity of Oebalus’s kingdom.

This final act masterfully weaves together the tragic revelations, the interplay of mortal and divine forces, and a bittersweet resolution. 

It showcases Mozart’s dramatic flair and keen understanding of 18th-century operatic conventions. 

This achievement is all the more remarkable considering the composer’s young age at the time of its creation.

Apollo et Hyacinthus Musical Highlights

While “Apollo et Hyacinthus” may be a minor work in Mozart’s vast oeuvre, it nevertheless showcases the composer’s prodigious talents, even at such a young age.

The opera’s three best numbers feature the character of Melia, sung by a boy soprano.

The first is the joyous, ornately decorated “Laetari, iocari,” an allegro aria that displays Melia’s vocal prowess. 

The opera’s true glories, however, are the two duets. In the intense “Discede, crudelis!” Melia accusingly confronts Apollo, her phrases frenzied and her line wayward, while the god’s responses are sweeter and more reasonable.

And in the slow, moving lament “Natus cadit,” Melia and her father Oebalus grieve—a moment of sublime poignancy, even from the pen of an 11-year-old prodigy.

You can listen to the opera on various platforms. For instance, there’s a performance of “Apollo et Hyacinthus” on YouTube by the Mozarteum University Symphony Orchestra.

Final Note

Though not a standalone opera, “Apollo et Hyacinthus” reveals the 11-year-old Mozart’s operatic talent. 

This work, woven into a university celebration, showcased his prodigious abilities and foreshadowed his revolutionary impact on opera. 

While a minor work in his vast output, it remains an important milestone in a musical genius’s development.

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