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Il sogno di Scipione

Il sogno di Scipione
Azione teatrale by W. A. Mozart
The composer in 1777, by an unknown painter
LibrettistPietro Metastasio
Based onSomnium Scipionis
by Cicero
1 May 1772 (1772-05-01)
Salzburg (incomplete performance)

Il sogno di Scipione, K. 126, is a dramatic serenade in one act (azione teatrale) composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, which is based on the book Somnium Scipionis by Cicero; Metastasio's libretto [de] has been set to music several times. Mozart had originally composed the work at the age of 15 for his patron, Prince-Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach. After the bishop's death before it could be performed, Mozart dedicated it to Schrattenbach's successor, Count Colloredo. It was given a private performance in the Archbishop's Palace in Salzburg on 1 May 1772, although not in its entirety. Only one aria, the final chorus and the recitative dedicating it to the new Prince-Archbishop were performed. It is highly unlikely that it was ever performed in its entirety in Mozart's lifetime.[1]

Performance history

In January 1979, Il sogno di Scipione was exhumed for Mozart Week [de] in Salzburg, where it was given a complete performance. The participants – Peter Schreier (Scipio), Lucia Popp (Costanza), Edita Gruberová (Fortuna), Claes-Håkan Ahnsjö (Publio), Thomas Moser (Emilio) and Edith Mathis (Licenza), with the Salzburger Kammerchor and Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg under Leopold Hager – then made the work's first recording, issued originally on a Deutsche Grammophon LP and reissued on CD in 1991 in the Philips Complete Mozart Edition.

In 2001, Gotham Chamber Opera presented the U.S. stage premiere of Il sogno di Scipione at the Abrons Arts Center in New York City and presented a revival of the work in April 2012 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater in New York City as part of their tenth anniversary program.[2][3]

Judith Weir's 1991 chamber opera, Scipio's Dream, is based on Il sogno di Scipione with an adaptation of the original Metastasio libretto and a re-composition of the score[4] which was cut to around one fifth of its length; it was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in a performance by Vocem and Endymion, conducted by Andrew Parrott, directed by Margaret Williams.[5]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 1 May 1772
(Conductor: – )
Scipione, Scipio Africanus the Younger tenor
Costanza (Constancy) soprano
Fortuna (Fortune) soprano
Publio, Scipio Africanus the Elder,
Scipio's uncle and adoptive father
Emilio (Aemilius), Scipio's father tenor
La Licenza soprano
Chorus: Heroes


Place: North Africa, during the reign of Massinissa, King of Eastern Numidia
Time: 200 B.C.[6]

Fortuna and Constanza approach the sleeping Scipio and offer to accompany him through life. However, first he has to choose between Fortuna, the provider of the world’s good things, and the reliable, trustworthy Constanza.

Scipio asks for time to think. Neither in his heart nor mind can he take in what has happened, nor can he choose.

Fortuna and Constanza permit him to ask questions: he wants to know where he is. He fell asleep in the kingdom of Massinissa, but now has no idea of where he is. Fortuna tells him that he is in the Temple of Heaven. The magnificent lights are the stars against the blue background of the universe. He can hear the music of the harmony of the spheres.

Scipio asks who creates this harmony. Constanza replies that the power behind it moves the spheres like strings on a zither, finely tuned by hand and ear. Scipio responds by asking why this sound is inaudible to mortals on earth. Constanza explains that this is due to the inadequacy of their senses; looking at the sun, they see only the glare, whilst hearing a waterfall, they know nothing of its destructive power. Scipio then asks who dwells in this eternal world. Fortuna indicates an approaching cortege – heroes, his forefathers, Rome's greatest sons. Scipio sees the dead Publius and asks if dead heroes live here. Publius assures him that the light of immortality resurrects the body, freeing it from the burden of mortality. He who has thought of, felt for and devoted himself to others will live forever; those who have lived only for themselves are not deserving of immortality. Scipio goes to seek his father. He is delighted to find him, but surprised when it appears that this joy is not mutual. His father Emilio tells him that joy in heaven is complete, because it is not accompanied by suffering; he points to the Earth, small and miserable and covered in cloud, the home of mad misguided people, indifferent to other's pain.

Aghast at the sight of the Earth, Scipio begs his father to be allowed to remain in the eternal land. However, he is told by Publius that he has a great mission to complete on Earth – to destroy an enemy, after making his choice between Constanza and Fortuna.

Scipio asks Fortuna what kind of help she can offer him in completing his task. She tells him of her power to destroy and create, to corrupt innocence and empower evil. Who can resist her? Constanza says that only she can bestow the power of loyalty. Fortuna cannot go beyond the limits dictated by Constanza. Virtue can only occasionally be defeated by violence, while evil deeds, unlike good ones, are transient. Fortuna can manage rare strikes, but cannot deprive heroes of hope and faith. Thus Scipio chooses Constanza, braving Fortuna's anger unafraid, because the eternal kingdom is dearer to his heart.

Fortuna, furious, calls plagues down as vengeance on Scipio. He however keeps his courage through a foul storm. He reawakes in the kingdom of Massinissa, feeling the presence of Constanza beside him. The moral behind his dream was a hymn of praise to the eternal virtues offered by heaven, a model for all those who believe in God. In the final scene Licenza praises Scipio's choice and explains that the real protagonist of the play is not Scipio, but the dedicatee – Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo.

Musical numbers




  1. ^ Piero Melograni [it], Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography, translated by Lydia G. Cochrane, University of Chicago Press, 2006, pp. 56–57
  2. ^ Gurewitsch, Matthew (January 17, 2010). "A Space Opera in a Proper Galaxy". The New York Times
  3. ^ Gotham Chamber Opera. Il sogno di Scipione
  4. ^ Michael Kennedy and Joyce Bourne, "Weir, Judith"[dead link] in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 1996. Retrieved via subscription 7 June 2008.
  5. ^ Weir, Judith. Memoirs of an Accidental Film Artist. In: A Night in at the Opera - Media representations of Opera. Edited by Jeremy Tambling. John Libbey & Company Ltd, London, 1994, p55-59.
  6. ^ Plot summary from Mozart: The Early Operas – Il sogno di Scipione (Brilliant Classics CD 92346)


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Il sogno di Scipione
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