Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

This one-act serenata drammatica was thought to have been
commissioned to celebrate the installation of Hieronymus, Count Colloredo,
as Archbishop of Salzburg in spring 1772 but, after ultra-violet testing
revealed that in the recitative leading to the dedicatory licenza the name
‘Girolamo’ (Italian for Hieronymus) had supplanted the erased ‘Sigismondo’,
this opinion was revised.


The work is now believed to have been commissioned the preceding year by
the then Archbishop, Sigismund von Schrattenbach. When Schrattenbach died
unexpectedly in December 1771, the fifteen-year-old Mozart altered the
dedication and date of composition, and replaced the original licenza with
a longer and more florid honorific conclusion. (Classical Opera perform
this second licenza, but provide the original as an appendix.) In any case,
there is no documentary evidence that it was ever performed, in part or in
its entirety, and the first performance is generally held to be that given
in Salzburg in January 1979.

Il sogno di Scipione
is light on action and heavy on allegory. Metastasio’s libretto, drawing on
Cicero’s tale of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus, presents the dilemma
faced by Scipio who, falling into a deep sleep, dreams that he is visited
by two goddesses, Fortuna and Costanza, who each implore him to choose them
to be his sole guide as he fulfils his duty to complete the destruction of
Carthage. Fortuna beguiles him with the thrills offered by chance. Costanza
transports him to the heavens where he is confronted by the spirits of
Roman generals of yore, among them the ghosts of his father, Emilio, and
adoptive grandfather, Publio. His forebears offer their advice but tell him
he must make his own choice. To Fortuna’s fury, Scipio elects to follow
constancy; she throws him back down to earth where, with this right and
proper conclusion to the moral quandary, Licenza appears and pays homage to
the Archbishop.

The six roles are all assigned to high voices (three sopranos and three
tenors), and Page has been fortunate to be able to call upon a talented
young cast comprising Classical Opera Associate Artists soprano Soraya Mafi
(Fortuna) and tenor Stuart Jackson (Scipio), alongside four other gifted
young singers – sopranos Klara Ek (Costanza) and Chiara Skerath (Licenza)
and tenors Krystian Adam (Publio) and Robert Murray (Emilio). For, the
bravura demands of the da capo arias are considerable and sustained.

Soraya Mafi conveys the full extent of Fortuna’s tempestuous
unpredictability in ‘Lieve sono al par del vento’ (I am capricious as the
wind): the florid curlicues are rhythmically even, the pitch spot-on, and
the tone sparkles. She evinces a core strength of sound, and considerable
lung-power, to sail through the extended runs and emerge gleaming at the
top. In Fortuna’s Act 2 ‘A chi serena io miro’ the sweetness of the violins
speaks of her duplicity and manipulativeness, while the vocal line really
glistens. The enchanting triplets are supple and seductive, but the brief,
indignant B-section tells us all we need to know about the perils of
meddling with Fortune, while Mafi’s suavity of tone and phrasing confirms
Fortuna’s egoism in the da capo repeat.

Klara Ek brings a thrilling brightness and muscular agility to the role of
Costanza. The sound is pure and direct in ‘Ciglio che al sol di gira’ (The
eye that turns to the sun) as she warns Scipio against the excesses offered
by Fortuna, which will dazzle him, disguising her danger: the graceful
violin playing adds significantly to the earnestness of the vocal
expression. If Ek’s trills are not quite so shapely as those of Mafi, then
she admirable enormous stamina; and if the final cadential decoration is
rather extended and not entirely idiomatic, then the radiant stratospherics
are impressive and one might forgive such indulgence in a dramatic context.
Ek’s diction is excellent in the bravura show-piece aria ‘Biancheggia in
mar lo scoglio’ (The rock turns white in the sea), in which Costanza
asserts her case that she alone can ‘impose limits and laws on her dreaded
empire’: we can hear the incipient seeds of the determination and
intransigency the Queen of the Night, Kostanze and Fiordiligi – we know
that this Costanza will not give up.

As Scipio, in his first recitative Stuart Jackson sounds genuinely
bewildered to have been woken and confronted by a divine duo – an amazement
expressed by the accomplished vocal vaults, some of which take the ear by
surprise, florid runs and rhetorical trills of his opening aria, ‘Risolver
non osa’ (My confused mind). Jackson’s coloratura is not quite as pristine
as that of his female implorers, though the interpolated extravagances at
the close do impress; but, the tenor certainly captures Scipio’s
conflicting confusion and majesty, and launches with confidence at the
mountainous peaks. In Act 2’s climactic ‘Di’ che sei l’arbitra’ (You say
you are the arbiter), Page is sensitive regarding tempo and dynamics but
Jackson’s fioratura is not consistently centred and the intonation wanders
at times. That said, he does create a convincing three-dimensional
character and in the more lyrical passages the vocal warmth and appeal is

Krystian Adam’s Publio is dignified and earnest in the long recitative in
which he urges his grandson to remember his responsibilities to his family,
to history and to his present subjects. Adam convincingly suggests
experience, maturity and wisdom: in his aria, ‘Se vuoi che te raccolgano’
(If you wish these realms to welcome you), imposing brass imply his former
might but the vocal line is itself sensitively shaped, replete with strong
emotion which will surely touch his grandson’s heart and conscience. The
coloratura is lightly negotiated; there is never a sense of an old man
huffing and puffing, and if a little more baritonal colour might have
deepened the characterisation further, then this was in evidence
in Publio’s fluently unfolding Act 2 aria, complemented by vibrant strings
and propulsive horns.

Robert Murray displays a fittingly youthful ring and crispness as Emilio,
which is complemented in ‘Voi colaggi˘ ridete’ (Down there you laugh) by
some lovely interjections from the flutes and violins; indeed, I wonder if
Emilio does not come across as rather too sympathetic here – after all, the
father is taunting his son’s, and all mortals’, presumption and pride? But,
in the B-section of the aria Murray finds a brusqueness – ‘Up here we laugh
at you,/for at the end of your days, when your hair is all white/you are
still children’ – which briefly suggests contempt and a warning born from
undoubted love for his son.

Chiara Skerath floats through the lovely extended, florid phrases of
Licenza’s ‘Ah perchË cercar degg’io’ (Ah why should I search), in which her
timbral variety is complemented by woodwind and horns. And, the Chorus of
Heroes would undoubtedly have given Scipio a shock upon his arrival in
heaven! A triumphant wall of sound greets him, the trumpet’s flourishes of
glory cutting through the massed choral ensemble (which is admittedly not
the young Mozart’s most inspired effort – though there are a few tricks
borrowed from Handel).

The Orchestra of Classical Opera plays stylishly for Page, and with plenty
of character and spirit. The Overture skips fleetly along, punctuated by
ceremonial punch from brightly ringing horns and trumpets. The string
articulation is incisive and clean; the woodwind offer piquant hues and, in
the slower triple-time section that concludes the overture, blend
beguilingly – no wonder Scipio is lulled into comforting oblivion. The tuttis conjure excitement and drama, and Page makes effective use
of the modulatory twists. In the ensuing arias, the ambitious young Mozart
loads his instrumental parts with copious detail and Page – and the Signum
engineers – makes sure that we hear them all, but also that busyness does
not become weightiness. To take an early example, just a few bars into
Scipio’s first aria, the second violins find themselves breezing delicately
through rapid arpeggio figuration. Page moves with fluency between the
varied tempi and moods of the individual arias and the light touch continuo
keeps the secco recitatives moving along. The single accompanied recitative
– when Scipio resists Fortuna’s blasts of light and upturned spheres, and
feels Constancy’s ‘divinity’ infusing his breast – is brilliantly crafted.
This number finds Jackson at his best too: his tone is forthright, plosive
consonants giving way to first gentility and assurance, and finally noble
confidence. This is stirring musical theatre.

The CD-booklet presents a complete libretto, with English translation. And,
Page provides an engaging and informative account of the contextual
background and the composition of the work, as well as drawing attention to
striking features of the libretto and score. As always, there is no
doubting Page’s commitment and he writes persuasively and with evident
passion and pleasure about the telling details which reveal the teenage
Mozart’s ‘dramatic genius’, such as the musical representation of Scipio’s
dream-swept progress into Elysium and his subsequent re-awakening.

Could Il sogno di Scipione ‘work’ in the theatre? When Christopher
Alden offered the US its stage premiere of the work – with Henry Street
Chamber Opera (now Gotham Chamber Opera) conducted by Neal Goren – his
spicy modern-dress production was praised (in Opera News, August
2001), for its ‘valiant’ attempt to bring life to a drama which is
‘forbiddingly inert’. A 2006 Salzburg production, directed by Michael
Sturminger and conducted by Robin Ticciati was felt by Brian Robins ( Fanfare, July 2007) to have musical merits but to suffer
from ‘idiotic direction’. Judith Weir must have considered the work to have
innate dramatic potential when in 1991 she adapted Mozart’s serenata for her 30-minute chamber opera Scipio’s Dream.


Perhaps Page and Classical Opera will one day give UK audiences the
opportunity to judge for ourselves. In the meantime, the characterful
music-making on this recording offers substantial musical enjoyment.

Claire Seymour

Mozart: Il sogno di Scipione K.126

Classical Opera – Ian Page (conductor)

Scipione – Stuart Jackson, Costanza – Klara Ek, Fortuna – Soraya Mafi,
Publio – Krystian Adam, Emilio – Robert Murray, Licenza – Chiara Skerath,
The Choir and Orchestra of Classical Opera.


A detailed account of the work’s origins can be found in E.T.
Glasow’s review of the 2001 recording by the Freiburg Baroque
Orchestra under conductor Gottfried von der Goltzin, in The Opera Quarterly, Autumn 2001, Vol.17(4), pp.739-743.
Glasow also suggests that it was the association of Mozart’s azione teatrale with the Archbishop who later dismissed
Mozart from his service, that led to its negative reception by
musicologists who scorned it as ‘that wretched piece’ (Alfred
Einstein, Mozart: His Character, His Work) and ‘formal and
uninspired’ (Edward J. Dent, Mozart’s Operas: A Critical Study).


This chamber opera, written in collaboration with Margaret
Williams, was commissioned by the BBC and AVRO Holland as a
television film in the Not Mozart series.

image_description= Mozart: Il sogno di Scipione K.126. Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray, Chiara Skerath. The Choir and Orchestra of Classical Opera. Ian Page.
product_title=Mozart: Il sogno di Scipione K.126. Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray, Chiara Skerath. The Choir and Orchestra of Classical Opera. Ian Page.
Signum Classics SIGCD499 [2 CDs (49:57 & 58:17)]
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Signum Classics SIGCD499 [2 CDs (49:57 & 58:17)]