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Mozart – Ascanio in Alba

Conductor – Adam Fischer

Stage Director – David Hermann

Stage and Costume Design – Christof Hetzer

Video Director – Stefan Aglassinger


Venus – Iris Kupke

Ascanio – Sonia Prina

Silvia – Marie-Belle Sandis

Aceste – Charles Reid

Fauno – Diana Damrau

Actors – Christian Banzhaf & Katharina Votter


Salzburg Festival 2006

Deutsche Grammophon M22 – DVD 073 4229 GH [104 minutes]

The cover of this DVD shows an image of Fauno swinging gently in front of a comfortingly baroque drape, but do not allow yourself to be taken in, this is an aggressively MODERN production, fully deserving the capital letters I have used.


In what is described as a theatrical experiment, director David Hermann and designer Christof Hetzer are determined to place a wedge between what we see and what we hear. The hearing first: Mozart's unaccompanied recitatives are banished, to be replaced by two actors who spell out the plot for us in the simplest of language, and continue to mouth the arias along with the singers – a device which quickly becomes tedious.


The arias are as composed, and for the most part sung with grace and beauty, notably by Sonia Prina (Ascanio) making a rare excursion from her normal Handel/Vivaldi repertoire, Marie-Belle Sandis (Silvia) and Queen of the Night specialist Diana Damrau as the Faun. Iris Kupke (Venus) sounds a bit strained and Charles Reid's (Aceste) voice never really seems to warm up. Adam Fischer conducts the Mannheim Theatre Orchestra with panache, and they respond with enthusiasm.


It is hard to find anything complimentary to say about what we see.


Apart from the rather lovely damask curtain referred to at the outset, the scenery consists of a large quantity of green rubber gym mats which are variously piled up, laid out like playing cards or tossed around. The costumes are supremely incongruous and unflattering – the chorus of nymphs and shepherds are decked out in unisex ensembles of riding breeches and boots, golfing sweaters, and knotted handkerchiefs on their heads - each carries a potted fern. Poor Silvia in a ridiculous ballet frock, cross-gartered stockings and platform-soled sandals that she can barely walk in, makes her entrance in a wheel barrow.

As the booklet helpfully explains, during the second half of the evening the audience were provided with those little red and green glasses that one associates with 3D magazines and films of the 1950's, which enabled them to see “an abstract scene of devastation made up of geometric shapes”. Whatever the audience saw, it does not translate to video, and the display is reduced to some dull looking CAD graphics chalked out on the floor.


What a pity. There is some very fine music in this opera, and a rare opportunity to present it intelligently and intelligibly has been missed.


Serena Fenwick



Photo credit Salzburger Festspiele