I’m a pretty Regie friendly guy but I confess to being quite bemused by the 2006 Salzburg production of Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba. Some of the production concept I totally get. Removing the unaccompanied recits and replacing them with two actors speaking a summary (in German) makes all kinds of sense. It reduces a sprawling pastorale with minimal plot to something half the length while keeping all the good music. The wonky android chorus, the hero apparently with severe motor neuron disease and Aceste shunting Silvia about in a wheelbarrow I had more problems with. The Gumbie chorus seemed particularly odd and the costumes, well see for yourself.
I do get that, dramatically, there’s not much to work with here but director David Hermann does rather seem to be throwing out random ideas in the hope that one sticks. Despite this the music making is very good. It’s basically the soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Nationalstheaters Mannheim with Diana Damrau thrown in for star appeal. They are very good indeed and Ivan Fischer makes the most of the precocious fifteen year old Mozart’s score. There’s lots of flashy coloratura for Damrau and good solid performances from Iris Kupke as Venere, Sonia Prina as Ascanio and Charles Reid as Aceste. Maybe Marie-Belle Sandis deserves a special mention for singing really well while wearing one of the most unflattering costumes ever.
Technically this is very good. Stefan Aglassinger, who directs for video, is not afraid of long shots even when there isn’t much on stage and presents the production to advantage. The DTS surround sound is exceptionally vivid and the picture is really pretty good for DVD. There is a fairly useful “making of” bonus track and Italian, German, French, English and Spanish subtitles.