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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Lucio Silla. Dramatic opera in three acts (1772)
Lucio Silla, Dictator of Rome: Kurt Streit (tenor), Celia, sister of Lucio: María José Moreno (soprano), Giunio betrothed to Cecilio, but loved by Lucio Silla: Patricia Petibon (soprano), Cecilio, Roman senator in exile, bethrothed to Giunio: Silva Tro Santafé (soprano, castrato roll at premiere), Lucio Cinna, Friend of Cecilio: Inga Kalna (soprano en travesti), Aufidio, tribune and friend of Lucio Silla: Kenneth Tarver (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of The Teatro Real, Madrid/Ivor Bolton
Stage Director, Claus Guth
Set and costume design, Christian Schmidt
Lighting design, Jürgen Hoffmann
TV Director, Jérémie Cuvullier
rec. live, Teatro Real Madrid, October 2017
Audio, 2.0 PCM and 5.1 Dolby Digital. Video. 2DVD9NTSC. 16:9
Booklet notes in English, French, Spanish and german.
Presented in stereo and dts surround sound
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean and Japanese
BEL AIR CLASSICS BAC150 [2 DVDs: 188 mins]

The third and final Italian journey made by the young Mozart began at the end of October 1772 when Wolfgang was sixteen. Once again, it was to fulfil a commission to open the Carnival Season at Milan’s Teatro Regio Ducale on December 26th of that year. The work, Lucio Silla, an opera seria in three acts, had the benefit of Metastasio’s personal amendments to the original libretto, which included a new scene. However, luck was not on the composer’s side. The original tenor scheduled for the title role withdrew due to illness. With no comparable singer available, a member of the choir took the role. This accounts for limitations in both the number of arias for the title role as well as the restricted vocal demands in those arias. The work does include an innovative trio, extended recitative and a grand finale.

This production, by Claus Guth, was premiered in Vienna in 2005 and later revived for Barcelona before arriving in Madrid, where Ivor Bolton, an expert in music of this period and style and also Musical Director of the theatre, took the helm, his fingers flittering over the opera seria melodies and complexities aided by the fortepiano. The production is updated to more modern times, the set bearing no physical resemblance to Rome and the modern dress was matched by the presence of pistols and a rifle when knives are referred to. Big and chunky, the set used the revolving stage to good effect, from the sung drama viewpoint, including a second tier in parts. Vocal references to Roman sites, such as The Coliseum, are of little relevance.

The Opera Seria style requires singing that concentrates as much on form as on drama, with the soloist requiring considerable vocal skill to carry the necessary weight of the story. Mozart lavished his young, but considerable skills, on the arias for Giunia, the heroine of the story who is loved by dictator Lucia Silla, but is herself in love with Cecilio, a rebel who has returned to Rome incognito. The arias for Celia are somewhat featureless, but are vocal showpieces (DVD 1 Ch.22). Whilst there are many flaccid passages in the work it does, however, illustrate in its structure and use of the aria, a significant development of the pubescent Mozart’s grasp of the amorous and dramatic situations as the eponymous harsh Roman ruler is redeemed by love.

Despite its fraught origins, some of the most dramatic singing and interpretation come from the singing of Kurt Streit as Lucio Silla. He is past his best years as a mellifluous Mozartian, but does infuse emotion and drama in what he sings. In this latter respect he is matched by the raven-haired Patricia Petibon for whom he has a passionate love. She acts with conviction though not always matched by her opera seria coloratura singing. Her vocal evenness, and divisions, leaves something to be desired at times, but nonetheless she succeeds in creating a meaningful character. So does her lover, banished from Rome by the dictatorial Lucio Silla. Originally a castrato role, it is sung with feeling and vocal lustre by Silva Tro Santafé, from her opening aria, Il tenero momento (DVD1 Ch.4) through the character’s imprisonment and threat of death to the happy ending. As Cinna, Inga Kalna shows no distinction either as actress or singer. In contrast as Celia, sister of Lucio, María José Moreno looks superb and sings with bright vocal purity and flexibility. Similarly, as Aufidio, tribune and friend of Lucio Silla, Kenneth Tarver sings superbly in his one opportunity in the aria Guerrier, che d’un acciaro at the conclusion of the first scene of act two (DVD 1. Ch. 18). His is luxury casting in this double cast series of performances. It maybe he was cover in both casts for Lucio himself, for he certainly has the acting and vocal qualities necessary.

For those whose enthusiasm is Mozart or opera seria, this performance has many virtues. The slow evolution of the story and its stylised music will disappoint those more enthusiastic about the composer’s da Ponte operas or Magic Flute.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (Blu-ray): Stuart Sillitoe

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