Mozart Lucio Silla
The Milan premiere of Lucio Silla, on Boxing Day 1772, 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 audiences one iota. What they came for – and got in spades – were varied and inventive arias that showcased the 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 2001-02 recording from Danish Radio archives is, taken all round, as well sung as the 1970s Philips version from Leopold Hager (12/92) 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.
While 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 sombre memento mori scene in Act 1 and the spectacular vengeance aria “Quest’ improvviso tremito”. The secondary 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 short-changing the singers. While there is much to admire on the Hager recording, especially when Arleen Augér or Julia Varady are involved, this is now the version to have of an ambitious, over-long but often richly expressive opera that has still not had a fully professional production in Britain.