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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Lucio Silla K135, Opera seria in three acts (libretto by Giovanni di Gamerra, reductions in recitatives by Richard Lewis) (1772)
Lothar Odinius – Lucio Silla (tenor); Simone Nold – Giunia (soprano); Kristina Hammarström – Cecilio (soprano); Henriette Bonde-Hansen – Cinna (soprano); Susanne Elmark – Celia (soprano); Jakob Næslund Madsen – Aufidio (tenor);  Richard Lewis (harpsichord)
Vocal Group Ars Nova, Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Adam Fischer
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2001-02
Booklet notes in German, English and Danish
Libretto in Italian, German, English and French
DACAPO 8.226069-71 [3 CDs: 68.18 + 70.42 + 31.00]
Experience Classicsonline

During his three Italian trips, from December 1769 to March 1773, the teenage Mozart received three big operatic commissions. The first was Mitridate, re di Ponto (1770) whose great success originated the next two: Ascanio in Alba (1771), composed for the wedding celebrations of the young Archduke Ferdinand with Princess Maria Beatrice d’Este of Modena; and Lucio Silla.
Mozart was still only sixteen when he composed Lucio Silla. He was forced to do it at speed, as he could not begin writing the arias until the singers were present and they arrived late. The opera was premiered on 26 December 1772 at the Teatro Regio Ducal, in Milan, and the primo uomo – castrato Venanzio Rauzzini – who would sing Cecilio, arrived at the end of November while the prima donna – Anna de Amicis – who played Giunia, was not present until early December. Add to this, the fact that the tenor, who ended up performing the title role, was a church singer, Bassano Morgnoni, with no stage experience, and one must wonder how young Mozart managed to cope and still produce a work of distinction.
The plot of the opera is based on the story of Roman despot Lucius Cornelius Silla (138-78 BC) who unexpectedly retired from his dictatorship. He was an interesting character and what should have been a fabulous role for a tenor. As it turned out, due to Morgnoni’s inexperience and late appointment, Mozart reduced the part considerably and the tenor was given only two arias, which vocally are not very demanding though pretty and pleasant enough. This is more the shame when one has a tenor like Germany’s Lothar Odinius singing Silla. Odinius is an excellent Mozart interpreter, with a clear vocal line, a good legato technique and an assured voice control. He delivers a pleasant Lucio Silla, excelling in the two arias, which he negotiates with ease and grace.
Lucio Silla is a rarely performed opera and possibly one of Mozart’s lesser-known works for the stage. It is therefore commendable that the Danish Radio Sinfonietta under the leadership of Hungarian conductor Adam Fischer decided to produce a recording of the opera. Fischer has a fresh approach to the work, leading the DRS in a colourful orchestral display, bustling with sparkling energy and youthful enthusiasm. He is, like his slightly younger brother Iván (founder of the Budapest Festival Orchestra), a distinguished and innovative conductor. Seldom has the music world been so lucky as to have two brothers with a similar talent and original approach to conducting. Adam Fischer is an expert Mozart conductor. His idea of reducing the recitatives for this CD version of Lucio Silla proved to be an insightful decision and one that fully achieves its objective: in Fischer’s own words to have “...more space to enjoy the arias with Mozart’s unique music”. This is true and definitely one of the reasons why the recording sounds so fresh and exciting.
As with most of Mozart’s earlier operas, in Lucio Silla there is a predominance of high voices, with arias that are often too long and with excessive passages of coloratura. Nevertheless, in this particular opera, this fact gives wonderful opportunities to four leading sopranos. In the principal female role, we have Simone Nold, a German soprano, who impressed me before with her performance as Sakontala, in the world premiere recording of Schubert’s unfinished opera of the same name. Here, she is equally excellent as Giunia, Cecilio’s bride, being wooed by the dictator Silla. Nold brings her clear coloratura and delicate sentiment to best effect in her duet with Cecilio, at the end of act one, and in the aria Ah se il crudel periglio. However, it is possibly in Parto, m’affretto, a very florid, difficult aria that her skill is at its best. She shows off her assured coloratura and gives a vivid, breath-taking rendition.

The two young Danish sopranos Henriette Bonde-Hansen as Cinna and Susanne Elmark as Celia, whom I had never heard before, are both a pleasant revelation indeed. Bonde-Hansen has a lyrical, rich, expressive voice with a wide range and Elmark a remarkably brilliant coloratura.  I would like to hear her in the famous aria of the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, as she must sound striking. Besides the role of Silla himself, sung by Lothar Odinius, as mentioned above, there is another tenor role, Aufidio, Silla’s right hand, who is effectively sung by young Danish tenor Jakob Næslund Madsen. Leaving the best for last though, I must now come to the very impressive Swedish soprano Kristina Hammarström who sings Cecilio. This was the role that Mozart composed specifically for the celebrated castrato Venanzio Rauzzini. Of his voice it is said that not only did he have a brilliant coloratura but he was also capable of extreme leaps; a fact that clearly shows in the aria Ah se a morir mi chiama, during act two. Hammarström delivers it beautifully, demonstrating that she too possesses this quality. Her voice has a wide range, with great flexibility and a rare, touchingly warm tone, even in its highest register. All these combined are extremely effective in all of Cecilio’s appearances but most of all in the duet with Giunia, D’Elisio in sen m’attendi, at the end of act one.
The orchestra of the Danish Radio Sinfonietta and the Vocal Group Ars Nova, under the expert direction of Adam Fischer, give a wonderful, lively performance of this seldom heard opera. They accompany the soloists beautifully and express vividly the various moods of the work, ranging from the sombre to the gloriously happy. It all comes together in Mozart’s fantastic finale, brilliantly written in the form of a chaconne, with alternating verses, for the soloists and the chorus.
Though Lucio Silla is an early Mozart opera, there are certain aspects that already announce the perfection that the composer was to achieve in his later works. For this alone, it deserves a place in any opera collection. However, this recording also makes a compelling case for the opera to be performed live more often, as part of the regular repertoire of any great opera house. All soloists, together with the DRS, Ars Nova and Adam Fischer must be congratulated. Theirs is a considerable achievement in this enjoyable, beautifully recorded interpretation of a great work by a then still adolescent Mozart.
Margarida Mota-Bull

Margarida Mota-Bull has written a novel set against the background of opera and structured within a musical frame, entitled "Canto di Tenore" see


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