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Ascanio in Alba

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756–1791

Festa teatrale
Libretto by Giuseppe Parini
First performed October 17 1771, Teatro Regio Ducale, Milan

Sung in Italian with German surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Bockenheimer Depot 30 minutes before performances begin 
There's a chamber music concert on January 7 inspired by this work

Venus announces that her son Ascanio will assume leadership of the region of Alba and build a new city to replace its beautiful green countryside, and tells her son Ascanio he’s to marry Silvia today. He’s slightly alarmed about this as he’s never met her, but the Goddess soothes hm, revealing that Amor started appearing in Silvia’s dreams four years ago, looking like Ascanio. He’s allowed to meet her in order to get to know his future bride and test her fidelity, without saying who he is. While Ascanio secretly gets closer to Silvia, she confesses to Aceste that she’s fallen in love with the man in her dreams, so could only show Ascanio respect, not affection, if she was forced to marry him. Ascanio wants to go to Silvia and begs his mother to reconsider her command, but she insists he be patient. Act 2 Ascanio’s reserve, his features and similarity to the man in her dreams all make Silvia suspect that the man she’s just met can’t be her future husband. Silvia’s fallen in love with the unknown man but, out of feelings of duty, decides she must marry Ascanio, although she’s never met him. Venus admits to Silvia that she set out to test them, and triumphantly marries the young couple, thereby ensuring her status and the strength of her own lineage through this powerful match. 

People strive for power, profit and political influence - in old Habsburg and today ...

Unscrupulous states corrupt politicians right to the very top. Energy concerns cause villages and landscapes to disappear. Can Mozart's Festa teatrale, which isn’t strictly an opera anyway, be seen as a commentary on our times?

In keeping with the house of Habsburg’s shrewd marriage politics, Empress Maria Theresia married her 16 children off all over Europe, with an opera often thrown in as a wedding present. On the occasion of her son Ferdinand Karl's marriage to Maria Beatrice d’Este, one of the Duke of Modena’s daughters, Maria Theresia commissioned 15 year old Mozart to write a festive serenata. The composer, who had just enjoyed a triumph with Mitridate, only had a few weeks because Ascanio in Alba was to be the musical highpoint of the festivities in Milan. His librettist came up with a clever combination of mythology, praise of monarchy and allegory: Venus tells her son Ascanio that Silvia’s his intended bride. He’s a bit unsure about this because he's never met her, but the goddess says that Amor's been appearing in Silvia's dreams, in Ascanio's form, for four years. He's allowed to meet her, but not say who he is. Silvia falls in love with the stranger, but refuses to have anything to do with him because of her duty to her future husband Ascanio, who she's never met. Venus triumphantly marries the young couple.

As founder of the new city of Alba Ascanio he's an allegorical Ferdinand Karl, expected to establish a new Habsburg state in Italy after marrying Beatrice d’Este. Marriage broker Venus represents Maria Theresia, who arranged the wedding from Vienna. Mozart's proud father Leopold said about its success: Ascanio went down very well indeed and the young lad's now hailed on the streets of Milan. The hoped for post at Duke Ferdinand’s court failed to materialise, after the Empress’ intervention, but Ascanio in Alba cemented the composer’s reputation as a European sensation.