Joseph Martin Kraus' opera Aeneas in Carthage ignited interest and curiosity even in a time when Kraus' name was not particularly well known. Its libretto was written by Swedish King Gustav III, and the original version of the opera -- never staged -- was six hours long, the longest opera written to that time. In order to defray the rather expensive undertaking of a production, Kraus was permitted to withdraw it and take some time off to polish the work, a process that took a full 10 years. It was finally finished in 1791, but not heard until 1799 and by that time both the King and Kraus were dead. Act V's aria "O Gudar! Styrken mig" (Oh Gods! Strengthen Me) was a rare survivor among Kraus' output, appearing as a recital piece on Swedish concert programs throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Although the title below the name of this Naxos release reads "Aeneas in Carthage -- Opera," one should pay strict attention to the subtitle, "Overtures, Ballet Music and Marches," because that's what it is; not the full opera, but the copious amount of instrumental music Kraus composed for it.
Even if it does not satisfy one's curiosity about this opera in a comprehension that one might like, Naxos' Aeneas in Carthage -- Opera: Overtures, Ballet Music and Marches as performed by Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä under Patrick Gallois, contains much superb music. The "Prologue: Overture" and the "Introduction to Act V" are among Kraus' darkest, stormiest, and most powerful moments, and if you were blindfolded you would swear that the Overture to Act I was Beethoven, not a composer who died before Beethoven hit his stride. However, the first "March of the Carthaginians" sounds like one of Mozart's Contradanses with a brighter, more amped up orchestration. This demonstrates that within this one work Kraus was both of his time and well ahead of it. The performance is energetic and sparkles with the excitement of discovery, though very occasionally, as in "Archery Contest," the band has a slightly strident sound, and in some cases one wishes Naxos had timed the track separations a little closer together. Although "Storm" -- which as you can imagine, is an excellent cue -- was not meant to lead more or less directly into the second "March of the Carthaginians," it could have; the interruption destroys any sense of momentum that could be desired. "March of the Numidians" is a definite hit, a fine Turkish-styled march that will have you high kicking around the living room if that's where you happen to be listening. There are all kinds of fine details to be observed in this music; some of them just seep, or explode, out of passages in which one might think Kraus could just take the easy route, but his youthful impetuousness just can't seem to be reined in, not even in dealing with the King's property. All the better for us, and if the opera Aeneas in Carthage is half as good as its orchestral music, then it must be a masterpiece.