John Weldon’s The Judgement of Paris

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

In October 2023, the Academy of Ancient Music, in collaboration with Cambridge Handel Opera Company (CHOC), will perform and record John Weldon’s The Judgement of Paris, one of the most significant works of English music theatre written in the decade following Purcell’s The Fairy Queen.

John Weldon was a pupil of Purcell’s, a composer in the Chapel Royal and organist at New College, Oxford. In 1700, the Earl of Halifax launched a competition to encourage the composition of ‘all-sung’ operas in English (most English operas of the day mixed music and spoken dialogue). This ‘Musick Prize’ boasted a purse of £210 for the best setting of The Judgement of Paris, a libretto by William Congreve (whose masterpiece The Way of the World had been premiered earlier that year). While two of the losing entries in this musical beauty contest – by John Eccles and Daniel Purcell respectively – are still performed to this day and have recordings in circulation, the winning entry by John Weldon has largely been forgotten and has never been recorded.

We believe the time has come to rediscover Weldon’s prize-winning composition and to record it for posterity. Weldon’s music sits on the path from Purcell to Handel stylistically, with more vocal pyrotechnics than the former composer would have dared. As Juno ‘descends in her machine’ at the outset of the narrative action she stuns Paris with flamboyant running scales in G major. Pallas, not to be outdone, ‘descends with a trumpet’ which plays virtuosic variations on her own coloratura. The audience is presented with not just a narrative beauty contest, but a musical one as well: where Handel might have set the text in a sequence of regular da capo arias, Weldon’s use of form is ever-varied with duets, trios and pastoral melodies interspersed amongst the fireworks. The chorus is also used in a novel manner throughout, supporting and punctuating the action, notably with a rousing (and raucous!) final celebration at the end of the work.

This collaboration with Cambridge Handel Opera Company, directed by Julian Perkins, follows CHOC and AAM’s acclaimed recording of John Eccles’ Semele, which was released in January 2021 and nominated for Gramophone’s Opera Recording of the Year. The project will feature a stellar cast of soloists including Anna Dennis (2023 RPS Singer Award), Helen Charlston (BBC Next Generation Artist), Kitty Whately (Kathleen Ferrier & Royal Overseas League Awards), Thomas Walker and Jonathan Brown.

The concert performance of this work will take place on Saturday 28 October at 7.15 pm at Trinity College, Cambridge and the work will be recorded the following week.

Find out more about this initiative

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:
Registered charity number 1085485