WORKS: Ascanio in Alba
PERFORMER: Lorna Windsor, Michael Chance, Jill Feldman, Howard Milner, Rosa Mannion; Paris-Sorbonne University Chorus, Concerto Armonico, Budapest/Jacques Grimbert
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660040/1 DDD
Mozart wrote this pleasant festa teatrale for the wedding of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, third son of the Empress Maria Theresa, and Maria Beatrice d’Este, Princess of Modena. If the music is unexceptional compared to that of, say, Idomeneo, chalk it up to youth – he was 15. Giuseppe Parini’s libretto, based on Virgil’s Aeneid, concerns the wedding of Ascanio, son of Venus and Aeneas, to the nymph Silvia, a descendant of Hercules, who lives on the isle of Alba. Though it has as much dramatic power as a Shirley Temple film, it culminates with a fine bit of dea ex machina, when Venus descends in her cloud-borne chariot to unite the lovers, to explain away their slight misunderstandings, and thus lay the ground for the founding of Rome.
Silvia has the score’s best music: tuneful, showy, and full of ebullient passagework, which Jill Feldman sings with silvery élan. The best performance, however, is that of Rosa Mannion, who makes the most of the minor role of Fauno, especially in her solitary, virtuosic aria, ‘Dal tuo gentil sembiante’. Lorna Windsor sings a lacklustre Venus, with an uncertain tone and barely adequate passagework. Michael Chance’s Ascanio sounds like a protracted yawn, carefully produced but essentially colourless. Indeed, this recording suffers from a general lack of colour, performed as if there were a sign nearby flashing the directive to ‘Proceed with Caution’. Barrymore Laurence Scherer