The Judgment of Paris
Masque to a libretto by William Congreve
Marsh Court, Stockbridge, 18 September 2010
Music at Wotton, 6 November 2010
The Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 7 November 2010
Wigmore Hall, London, 12 February 2011
|Mercury (Hermes), the messenger of the gods||Mark Chaundy|
|Paris, a shepherd||
Peter van Hulle (September and November)
John-Colyn Gyeantey (February)
|Juno (Saturnia, wife of Jupiter)||Joana Seara|
|Pallas (Athena)||Serena Kay|
|Venus (Cytherea)||Ilona Domnich|
|with the Bampton Classical Players on period instruments|
|Oliver Webber, Jim O’Toole, Ben Sansom violin; Emma Alter viola; Natasha Kraemer cello; Jonathan Moss double bass; Rachel Chaplin, Karen Gibbard oboe; Zoe Shevlin bassoon|
|Conductor and harpsichord||Ben Bayl|
Synopsis and Background
The classical myth of The Judgment of Paris is found in many forms in Greek and Roman literature, and was linked with the background to the Trojan war. The messenger god Mercury is sent by Jupiter to give a task to the shepherd Paris. He is to present a golden apple to the most beautiful of three goddesses – Juno, Pallas and Venus. The goddesses battle it out in this celestial beauty contest (‘Turn to me, for I am she’) and each tries to tempt Paris. Juno, wife of Jupiter, offers earthly power and kingship (‘Let ambition fire thy mind’, whilst Pallas (Athena) offers wisdom and glory in war (‘The glorious voice of war calls aloud’). Venus charms with cooing words of love (‘One only joy mankind can know’): her sensuous tactics pay off, and Paris awards her the coveted prize (‘I yield, I yield’).
Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778), the Eton-educated son of a successful upholsterer-cum-funeral director is one of the most colourful figures in English music history. His popular reputation nowadays may be based almost entirely on that promenaders’ delight , Rule, Britannia (from his 1740 ‘masque’ Alfred, a tale of Anglo-Saxon warfare and rustic lovemaking), but in his lifetime he was the most prominent figure in English theatrical music, the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day. Described as ‘thoughtless, dissipated and careless’, he was superbly self-assured in his musical writing, showing a remarkable gift for singable melody and a sure sense of dramatic pace. With a 45 year-long career spent writing for the stage, Arne would now be much more of a household name,were it not for the fact that so much of his music has been lost with the ravages of time: hardly any of his stage works survive complete and many are in virtually unperformable fragments.
His Judgment of Paris, composed in 1742, is described as a masque – originally a form of Renaissance courtly musical theatre – but is in effect a short opera in the late Baroque style, with no spoken text. Although there is little plot beyond the bare outline of the classical myth on which it is based, it makes for an attractive and very entertaining staged work. Composed for 5 solo singers, the music alternates between ‘airs’ (solo numbers, some in the familiar Baroque da capo structure), recitatives (sung dialogue), and choruses. The English text is by the great poet William Congreve, and was originally written for a famous composition competition in 1701 in which several composers participated, the prize going to John Weldon. Perhaps in choosing the same libretto forty years later, Arne hoped to make a point about his own superior standing, although by then the original competition pieces had long been forgotten.
The first performance took place on 12 March 1742 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London with an outstanding cast, including Mrs Arne (Cecilia Young) as Venus. The performance was mounted for Arne’s own benefit and the usual prices were increased for the occasion – in the marketing material, after noting that “Ladies are desir’d to send their servants to keep places by Four o’clock”, Arne explained that he “humbly hopes the Town will not be offended at this small advance of Prices, being at an extraordinary expence for copying all the Music, building the stage, additional instrumental performers, chorus singers and erecting an Organ”. At a time when contemporary music quickly went out of fashion it is remarkable that Paris was still being performed as late as 1761, - complete with fireworks. Bampton Classical Opera is delighted to perform this forgotten English masterpiece in celebration of Arne’s 300th anniversary.
…impressive singing… superb playing… uniformly excellent
MusicWeb International, November 2010
...lively heartfelt singing…
The Oxford Times, 12 November 2010
…commitment, intelligence and significant musical accomplishment
Opera Today, 20 February 2011
…pleasingly sung, neatly directed…
The Times 15 February 2011