Franco Fagioli, Olga Pudova, Chiara Skerath, Alessandro Liberatore, Ilse Eerens; Le Jeune Chœur de Paris; Insula Orchestra/Laurence Equilbey
Warner Classics 9029637734 126:33 mins (2 discs)
Mozart’s Lucio Silla was the last of three operas he composed for Milan’s Teatro Regio Ducal – forerunner of La Scala – in 1772, when he was not quite 17 years old. Following its highly successful initial run, it was heard no more until the 20th century. While this dramma per musica about a cruel Roman dictator who eventually gives up power doesn’t bear comparison with his mature scores, in a strong performance it is well worth encountering.
This live recording has its origins in a European tour undertaken by Laurence Equilbey and her orchestra back in 2016. More recently, having set up her Festival Maximum Mozart, she revived the piece with the same cast as in its previous emanation.
In her own liner note, the conductor notes that Nikolaus Harnoncourt – whose 1998 recording (also live) was previously the only one to employ period instruments – made cuts, removing the minor role of Aufidio and some recitative. She goes a good deal further. Her claim that what remains sustains the narrative is pretty optimistic: on a recording, one should surely aim for the entire score. In any case her cast is not nearly so impressive as Harnoncourt’s: Peter Schreier, Edita Gruberová, Cecilia Bartoli, Dawn Upshaw and Yvonne Kenny sang for him.
There are certainly strengths in Equilbey’s team – especially in Chiara Skerath’s lucid Cinna and Alessandro Liberatore’s trenchant Silla. The other members of the cast are less consistent, with coloratura passages not always cleanly negotiated and tone sometimes unsteady. The chorus, though, is impressive, the orchestra spry and the conductor brings dynamism to her task.