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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART, W.A.: Lucio Silla [Opera] (A. Fischer)
By Richard Wigmore
The Milan premiere of Lucio Silla, on Boxing Day 1771, was a near-fiasco: ham acting from the last-minute tenor and the prima donna in a sulk. But from the second performance Mozart’s second opera seria was an unalloyed triumph. The libretto is lumbering, sententious and dubiously motivated, culminating in an astonishing volte-face in which the sadistically ruthless Emperor suddenly morphs into a paragon of Enlightenment clemency. Not that this would have bothered 16-year-old Mozart’s audience one iota. What they came for—and got in spades—were varied and inventive arias that showcased star singers.
The central roles of Giunia and her betrothed, the banished senator Cecilio (written for the castrato Rauzzini), inspired Mozart to his most powerful operatic music to date: darkly coloured accompanied recitatives that look forward to Idomeneo, Cecilio’s anguished aria of parting, “Ah, se a morir”, a Gluckian ombra aria for Giunia as she prepares for death, and a dramatic trio that pits the two lovers against the raging Emperor.
This 2002-02 recording from Danish Radio archives is, taken all round, as well sung as the 1970s Philips version from Leopold Hager and much more excitingly conducted. Adám fischer encourages playing of quivering energy from the trim, lean-toned Danish orchestra. In the accompanied recitatives the players grieve and rage as vividly as the singers. Only Fischer’s jerky tempo fluctuations, à la Harnoncourt, in the trio fail to convince.
Whiel there are no big names among the soloists, they have fresh, youthful-sounding voices, and cope elegantly with Mozart’s coloratura demands. As the put-upon heroine Giunia, Simone nold sings with grace and agility, and fiery intensity, too—try the agitated Act 2 aria “Parto, m’affretto”. Mezzo Kristina Hammarström impresses especially in Cecilio’s somber memento mori scene in Act I and the pair of lovers, Cecilio’s friend Cinna and the Emperor’s blithely innocent sister Celia, are equally well cast, Susanne Elmark dispatching high staccato passages with delightful insouciance.
The recording gives the orchestra plenty of presence without shortchanging the singers.
By David Denton
Mozart was sixteen when he composed Lucio Silla, a dramatic opera that was to prove the watershed between childhood and adolescence. Yet he had worked under intolerable conditions that prevented him writing the arias before the arrival at the theatre of the principal singers. That gave him less than three weeks to compose the whole score, a task that he achieved with commendable results. Sadly his Italian audience did not take to the work, and he left the country never to return. The story is a basic love triangle, the dictator, Lucio Silla, demanding the hand in marriage of Giunia, who is already betrothed to Cecilio, the Roman senator who has been banished from the country. Events take many twists and turns before the populace turn against Silla, who forgives Cecilio and allows the marriage to take place, while he abdicates. It is a story based on the life of Lucius Cornelius Sulla (BC 138-78), the libretto provided by Giovanni de Gamerra. The shortage of time did not leave time for Mozart to write a convincing aria to understand Silla’s sudden change of heart at the end. However, many present-day Mozart commentators are reassessing a score now considered to be unjustly neglected. If it does have a drawback it is in the use of four female voices for the major roles that include that of Cecilio, and it is they who have the work’s main arias and duets, leaving it all slightly monochrome. Mozart even included a virtuoso part for Celia, Silla’s sister who is a subsidiary character. This new recording has abbreviated the recitatives, which is certainly a merciful relief, though enough remains to relate the story. It receives a highly persuasive performance, the female voices sounding suitably fresh, Simone Nold, having the more weighty attribute for the part of Giunia, though the fast flowing second act aria, Ah se il crudel periglio, taxes her agility to severely as it flies around in an expression of anger. My attention is particularly brought to Susanne Elmark’s Celia, her first act aria, Se lusinghiera speme, a lovely display of vocal acrobatics, the young Norwegian having a voice to treasure. Lothar Odinius is a persuasive Silla, though the name character has rather a minor role to play. Adam Fischer has the instinctive feel for the pace of the score, and never allows the momentum to sag, even at the extent of pushing the dexterity of his singers. I also much enjoyed the playing of the Danish Radio Sinfonietta who marry the period Baroque style with their modern instruments. I presume the recording was made by the Danish Radio, the quality outstanding in its balance and the intrinsic beauty of sound. I doubt that we will be inundated with Lucio Silla recordings, but this would be an automatic first choice.
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MOZART, W.A.: Lucio Silla [Opera] (A. Fischer)