Lucio Silla, K135 – Dramma per musica in three acts to a libretto by Giovanni de Gamerra revised by Metastasio [concert performance sung in Italian with English subtitles]
Cinna (friend of Cecilio) – Eleanor Dennis
Cecilio (exiled Roman senator, married to Giunia) – Rowan Hellier
Celia (Lucio Silla’s sister, in love with Cinna) – Katherine Watson
Giunia – Natalya Romaniw
Lucio Silla (dictator of Rome, in love with Giunia) – Anthony Gregory
Lucio Silla Chorus
The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 8 March, 2012
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Classical Opera Company has done Mozart a great service with this concert performance of Lucio Silla. The glories of another of the teenaged Mozart’s operas had been revealed in the Covent Garden staging of the earlier Mitridate. Lucio Silla, composed in 1772 when Mozart was 16, is an even finer work, with arias of dazzling richness, most of which demand a high degree of technical accomplishment, and some magnificent accompanied recitatives of great drama. The libretto and plot are central-casting opera seria, but enough to generate music of almost freakish brilliance and maturity.
The opera could reasonably be called ‘La clemenza di Lucio Silla’ and revolves around the heroine Giunia’s steadfastness in her love for Cecilio, whom the tyrant Lucio Silla has exiled and declared dead so that he can get it on with Giunia. There are two supporting roles, Cinna and Celia, and also a sixth role, for a tribune called Aufidio, which was here cut, as it has been on some recordings and in a touring production in 1998, the last time it was performed in the UK. Lucio Silla is quite a rarity.
The two leading roles are Giunia and Cecilio (the latter originally sung by a castrato). All four of Giunia’s arias could stand alone as concert arias. Natalya Romaniw delivered them with white-hot commitment. Of the five singers, her voice was the most substantial, with a slightly heavier vibrato. She hit the ground running in her stupendous first number ‘Dalla sponda tenebrosa’, which showed off the breadth and edge of her voice, which she skilfully toned down for her final aria, when she thinks she is about to die. Her gradation of weight and volume in the many fearsome coloratura passages – very much in ‘Queen of the Night’ territory – was superbly virtuosic. Each time she moved centre-stage, you braced yourself for further marvels.
Cecilio, her primo uomo, was sung by Rowan Hellier. Her mezzo was not quite so driven – something of a relief – but it was agile, characterful and almost casually virtuosic. The couple’s duet, when she discovers he is still alive, is one of the best scenes in the opera, and was sung with a melting tenderness that anticipates Così fan tutte.
Eleanor Dennis was a majestically baroque-looking presence as Cinna, tall and commanding, and the fiery incisiveness of her scorcher of an aria at the start of Act One established the high standard that would be sustained. The contrasting quality of Katherine Watson’s airy, soubrette-like soprano in the role of Celia was most attractive, and she was touching in her diffidence in declaring her love for the heroic Cinna. In the title role, Anthony Gregory may only have had two arias, but he made them count with his finely controlled, eloquently Italianate tenor, and he was really thrilling in the accompanied recitatives where he vacillates between the calls of love, tyranny and his desire to be a good guy. Mozart packs as much into these extended recitatives as he does into the arias, with a prodigality and intensity that make you reel.
The orchestral sound was full of detail, with some lovely woodwind work, and Ian Page didn’t let the atmosphere of noble hysteria flag for a moment. It was amazing that a performance of such power was a one-off event. Apparently there is a recording in the pipe-line.