Mozart Lucio Silla (DVD)
Kurt Streit, Patricia Petibon, Silvia Tro Santafé, Inga Kalna, María José Moreno, Kenneth Tarver; Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Real de Madrid/Ivor Bolton; dir. Claus Guth (Madrid, 2017)
Bel Air Classiques DVD:BAC150; Blu-ray:BAC450 180 mins
Mozart was 17 when Lucio Silla took Milan by storm in December 1772. The opera then disappeared for over 150 years – unsurprisingly, since this is an unreformed opera seria with the classic pattern of aria and recitative ping ponging its way through three acts. But the Overture, handsomely played by the Madrid Teatro Real orchestra conducted by Ivor Bolton, hints at another story; and as the opera unfolds you sense young Mozart straining at the bit with shorter arias and a remarkably sure-footed sense of musical characterisation to explore a favourite theme: the power and folly of love. Not that Claus Guth sets his Lucio in some romantic nook. Designer Christian Schmidt’s revolving dystopia with slabs of concrete, dirty white tiles and huge architectural portholes resembles a nightmare station on London’s Underground. Such architectural brutalism is all of a piece with the tyranny that Rome’s ruler imposes on the citizenry, particularly Giunia the wife of the banished senator Cecilio whom Silla desires. Much blood and angst will flow along the Tiber before husband and wife are reunited, with Silla voluntarily deposing himself as Rome’s ruler.
Kurt Streit is good at acting tyranny, a blend of arbitrary power and remorse usually prompted by his sister, Celia, who in a parallel plot is in love with Cinna, Cecilio’s best friend; but under pressure his tone thins out. Silvia Tro Santafé is a dependable Cecilio. But the vocal laurels, and the principal reason for recommending this recording, belong to Patricia Petibon who tears into Giunia’s arias as if her life really did depend on it. Her Act II aria ‘Ah se il crudel periglio’ is a tour de force.