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Mozart – Lucio Silla

Lucio Silla – Roberto Sacca
Giunia – Annick Massis
Cecilio – Monica Bacelli
Lucio Cinna – Veronica Cangemi
Celia – Julia Kleiter
Aufidio – Stefano Ferrari

Conductor – Tomas Netopil
Stage Director – Jurgen Flimm
Sets – Christian Bussmann
Costumes – Birgit Hutter
Video Director – Hannes Rossacher

Salzburg Festival 2006

Deutsche Grammophon m22 – 073 4226 GH2 – 149 minutes

Lucio Silla could claim to be Mozart's most unjustly neglected opera. He wrote it for Milan in 1772 at almost breakneck speed, as he could not complete the arias until the singers were present to approve and rehearse them, and they arrived late. The premiere was set for 26 December and less than 3 weeks earlier Mozart wrote to sister “I still have fourteen pieces to compose - - It is impossible for me to write much as I have no news and, moreover, I do not know what I am writing, for I can think of nothing but my opera and I am in danger of writing down not words but a whole aria ….” The pressure obviously suited him, with his genius was free-flowing – he wrote his Exsultate jubilate during the run of performances – and the opera contains some of his most taxing arias and most ravishing tunes.

Anyone watching this production could be forgiven for imagining that more than one opera was being rehearsed simultaneously on the big stage of the Felsenreitschule .   Both period and location are in melt down identity crisis. The classical façade of the Teatro Olimpico stands majestically between Silla's headquarters and the hideout of a present day terrorist gang.   Costumes mix-and-match mock 18th century with modern. There is constant action with dozens of extras, a lot of the imagery is violent and relates to recent atrocities - victims are piled up for execution, dolls symbolising mass burials are exhumed and labelled. Snow is littered with free abandon indoors and out.   Mostly it just looks a mess, and the camera close ups confuse matters further. There are just very occasional moments of visual beauty such as when Cinna stands flanked by an array of brandished swords for Nel fortunate istante, but these are rare treats in an evening of intentional distastefulness.

Mozart's story is based loosely on Roman history during the reign of a notoriously cruel dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla (the Silla of the title). The libretto ends with Silla repenting his tyranny and granting a general pardon. Whilst such a radical a change of heart may stretch credibility, it is certain that Sulla was forced to back down and release a number of condemned prisoners. Cicero , as advocate called Sulla to public shame in his speech Pro Roscio Amerino, declaring it “better to live with wild beasts than to live among people of such inhumanity”

The director Jurgen Flimm does not believe in leopards changing their spots, and he invents a violent ending for Silla which is completely at variance with historical records.

A pity, as with other titles in this Salzburg M22 series the musical side is excellent.    There is a very promising young Czech conductor, Tomas Netopil , making his Salzburg debut.    The title role is goes to Roberto Sacca   a good tenor, who is able to bring a real power of menace into the part.     Giunia has three of Mozart's real showpiece arias, which Annick Massis tackles with brilliance, and pulls off the feat of allowing her voice soar freely throughthe ever rising complexity of Ah se il crudel periglio   whilst she is physically forced to sink slowly to the ground.

Two young singers in smaller roles really catch the ear.   Julia Kleiter (Celia) a soprano with an attractive and effortless sounding coloratura and an extraordinarily fine young Italian tenor Stefano Ferrari ( Aufidio ). Take note of both their names.

For those who are not fans of Jurgen Flimm's direction, and there are many whose reaction to this will be to turn off the screen, there is always the alternative of Harnoncourt's 1989 recording with its stella cast of Peter Schreier , Edita Gruberova , Cecilia Bartoli , Dawn Upshaw and Yvonne Kenny. [Teldec 2292-44928-2]

Serena Fenwick

Whilst Serena Fenwick's opinion is certainly valid, and unlikely to be unshared, I am prompted to a small addendum. The singing and orchestral accompanying at Salzburg is dazzlingly impressive, but the string of coloratura arias would not hold our attention in front of an empty screen, a suggestion which might dissuade too many would-be purchasers. Flimm is an acquired taste, and we have been less than enthusiastic about some of his productions which have come our way (most recently, Fidelio at Covent Garden). However, the sheer inscrutability of much that happens on Salzburg's vast stage has a certain appeal that kept us watching and pondering right through until the disappointingly perfunctory and unconvincing ending, which has been much debated and is probably neither better nor worse in Flimm's personal gloss which winds things up. So do use Search to consider some other reviews alongside ours. [Editor]


Photo credit Clärchen & Matthias Baus