'Lucio Silla' at La Scala,
enjoyed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Mozart was a sixteen year old womanizer travelling through Italy when the Royal Duke Theatre in Milancommissioned him to write an opera seria: Lucio Silla, a long argument of belcanto arias with da capo, a few trios, a quintet and some choral numbers on a rather customary Enlightenment subject — ie: a ferocious tyrant becomes, within the span of a day, a little
lamb (retiring to a farm) after he understands the depth of the conjugal love experienced by the woman he wants to take to bed. There was, of course, also ballet (but most of that music got lost over the decades). Reportedly, on the opening night, 26 December 1772, the performance lasted for more than six hours, but two of these were due to the
Archduke arriving late at the theatre. It was quite successful: twenty six performances in Milan, followed by a good number of productions elsewhere in the Austrian Empire. The Lucio Sillaproduction which I attended on 26 February 2015 at La Scala lasted three and a half hours, including an intermission.
Young Wolfgang Amadeus knew not only the sexy part of womanizing. He had already captured an aspect which would
become of a determinant of his future work: women are stronger, more steadfast and more astute than their male counterparts. In a confrontation, they win, as Giunia does against
Lucio Silla and, for example, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro. In the nineteenth century, Lucio Silla disappeared (as did
many opera seria) until 1929 when it was proposed in Prague (in Germantranslation) and then in Salzburg. It was back in Milan in 1984 with a celebrated Patrice Chéreau production and in Venice in 2006 with a Jürgen Flimm staging: This new production is a joint effort
of La Scala, the Salzburg Mozarteum and the Salzburg Festival. Its debut was in Salzburg in January 2014 and had well-deserved internationalattention.
The importance of the work is not only the
role of the woman, the real protagonist of the opera, but the many musical advances. From the D major overture, the listener feels that this is not a traditionalopera seria with the
music as a mere support to belcanto. The conductor, Marc Minkowski, almost caressed the orchestra to provide different colors and different tints: the sober cemetery scene and grandiose finale were magnificent. More significantly, Minkowski underlined the
premonitions of the later Mozart's opera seria, especially the
innovating use of short recitatives gently sliding into arias and the
masterful use of alternating major and minor keys in the same tonalities.
There are also premonitions of Rossini's earlyopera seria, such as Tancredi;
although there is no record, it is possible that the young Rossini may
have sat in on a performance of Lucio Silla.
The staging by Marshall Pynkoski, the sets and the costumes by Antoine Fontaine and the choreography by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg place the action in Mozart's times, ie the Enlightenment, but not in a decadent and
decaying Rome as Flimm did in 2006. The sets and the costumes draw quite a bit
from late eighteenth centuryFrenchpaintings of Rome and of the Roman countryside. A real joy for the eyes.
An international cast of young singers was on stage. The centerpiece was, of course, the confrontation
between Giunia (Lenneke Ruiten) and Silla (Kresimir Spicer). Marianne Crebassa,
Inga Kalna and Giulia Semenzato completed this good cast.