Il sogno di Scipione, Opera by W. A. Mozart
When he composed Il sogno di Scipione, essentially a one-act opera, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was just 15 years old. Nevertheless, the keen listener will find in its roughly 80 minutes all the distinctive features that would earn the Austrian composer a place in the classical music pantheon. This season’s guests of Teatro Malibran in Venice will be delighted with Il sogno di Scipione’s nimble melodies, exhilarating hurried passages and elegant intermezzos.
Mozart created Il sogno di Scipione (or Scipio’s Dream) as a tribute to his patron, Prince Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach. He enlisted the help of librettist Pietro Metastasio to adapt Cicero’s book Somnium Scipionis for the opera stage. The work was classified as a one-act dramatic serenade, or an “azione teatrale”. Unfortunately, Count Schrattenbach did not live to hear the composition dedicated to him, as he suddenly passed away at the end of 1771.
Il sogno di Scipione, therefore, was re-dedicated to Count Colloredo – Schrattenbach’s successor – and had its premiere on 1 May 1772 at the Archbishop’s Palace in Salzburg. For reasons of brevity, that performance included only one aria, one chorus and a recitativo that featured the new dedication to Colloredo. The work then sank into obscurity and allegedly enjoyed its first full performance only in 1979 during Mozart Week in Salzburg. Since then, Il sogno di Scipione has had a small comeback, with occasional revivals in Europe and North America.
The plot, based on Cicero’s original story, takes us back to North Africa in 200 BC. Scipio, a Roman political and military figure, has a vivid dream: although he falls asleep in the earthly kingdom of Eastern Numidia, he awakes in the Temple of Heaven where two goddesses approach him. One is Fortuna, who has the power to corrupt, destroy and create, while the other is Constanza, the goddess of loyalty, stability and virtue.
Scipio then learns he has to return to Earth and lead his army into battle where only one of the goddesses may help him. Initially torn by doubt, he chooses Constanza and, thus, confirms he is pure of heart and a warrior of truth and light. A final recitativo reveals that Scipio is actually Mozart’s patron, Colloredo, and the dramatic serenade described his own good morals and high virtue.
Il sogno di Scipione provides a rare, exciting look into Mozart’s early operatic work. Teatro Malibran revives the one-act opera and puts its musical charm and fantastical plot on full display this season.