Help us to bring to the stage – and record for posterity – a rarely heard gem

The Academy of Ancient Music, in collaboration with Cambridge Handel Opera (CHOC) is planning to perform and record John Weldon’s masque The Judgement of Paris, one of the most interesting masques written in the decade after Purcell’s Fairie Queene. One of AAM’s core aims is to research and bring to public attention newly discovered and undeservedly neglected works.

John Weldon was Purcell’s pupil, a composer in the Chapel Royal and New College Oxford. In 1700 the Earl of Halifax decided England needed all-sung opera (most English operas of the day mixed music and spoken drama). He offered a ‘Musick Prize’ of £210 for the best setting of the libretto of The Judgement of Paris by William Congreve, whose masterpiece The Way of the World had been premièred that year. Two of the entries in this musical beauty contest, by John Eccles and Daniel Purcell, already have recordings in circulation. However, John Weldon’s setting – which won the competition – now needs to be heard.

It is vital music that sits on the path from Purcell to Handel stylistically. The vocal writing – a baritone choosing between three sopranos – has more pyrotechnics than Purcell would have dared. After Juno ‘descends in her machine’ she stuns the Paris with running scales in G major; Pallas, not to be outdone, then ‘descends with a trumpet’ who plays variations on her own coloratura. But Weldon doesn’t go in for Handel’s strings of three-part arias. There are many different forms here, give and take between characters, duets and trios and pastoral melodies among the fireworks. Paris only chooses Venus once all three have sung to him. The chorus also has an important role in this opera and their final celebration is the last and loudest of nine big choruses.

This collaboration with Cambridge Handel Opera, directed by Julian Perkins, follows CHOC and AAM’s recording of John Eccles’ Semele, which was released in January 2021 and nominated in the opera category of the Gramophone awards that year. The project will feature a stellar cast of soloists: Anna Dennis (recent winner of the 2023 RPS Singer award), BBC New Generation Artist Helen Charlston, Kitty Whately, Thomas Walker and Jonathan Brown.

Video: Initiatives of the Weldon’s ‘the Judgement of Paris’ project

Video: Excerpt of the Judgement of Paris with Anna Dennis

Please help us to bring this project to life! We have raised just over £29,000 towards AAM’s contribution to the project of £38,000 and have £9,000 to go. Every pound makes a difference.

For further information on this project, contact Liz Brinsdon on 01223 341090 or by e-mail liz.brinsdon@aam.co.uk.