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GRAMOPHONE (11/2023)
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Reviewer :
 Fabrice Fitch


This festa teatrale, composed in 1726 to mark the Empress’s birthday, was staged anew in Graz last year, part of a cycle resurrecting a number of such pieces by the Imperial Kapellmeister, best known today as the author of that textbook to end all music textbooks, Gradus ad Parnassum. Due to Covid and other factors, the work has been very skilfully filleted, preserving the main dramatic argument and jettisoning some minor characters, arias and recitatives, and (less defensible, and perhaps not so necessary?) curtailing the da capos, unless I’m much mistaken. But from these adjustments emerges a lean, taut score and an intelligible plot, such as it is: Arianna, smarting from her rejection by Theseus, is eventually paired up with Bacchus (seriously?) by Venus, no less; ditto Peleus and Thetis.


Fux serves up music of sufficient bombast to please an Imperial audience in the showpieces, though nothing is overdone (the Habsburgs were serious musical connoisseurs). The requirements of the genre are satisfied, the obligatory echo aria deftly handled, the trumpet voluntary in Bacchus’s final aria suitably pyrotechnic, the choral set pieces grandiose and truculent by turns. But there is intimacy in the recitatives, which the cast manage very pleasingly. As Venus, Monica Piccinini reprises the role written for the Imperial Court’s new prima donna, Marianna Lorenzani Conti. She has the requisite bravura with which to dominate proceedings, though the two other female roles acquit themselves equally well, Arianna slightly insecure and brittle (meaning the character, not the singer), Thetis a more reserved character. The two male roles, both countertenors, are well contrasted, though Meili Li’s timbre as Peleus, though expressive, is a shade too veiled for my liking. I noted the odd mispronunciation, and the trumpet soloist nearly trips over himself in the aforementioned solo; but these missteps are of little moment, for the musical argument has momentum enough to keep you listening. The informative accompanying texts take us into the spirit of the project. This frothy entertainment is a useful corrective to Fux’s rather dour modern reputation.

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