Production: LUCIO SILLA
Author: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Company: Opera Atelier
Director: Marshall Pynkoski
Principal Singers: Mireille Asselin, Peggy Kriha Dye, Inga Kalna, Meghan Lindsay, Krešimir Spicer
Venue: Elgin Theatre
Location; 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario
Run: April 7 to April 16, 2016
***** (out of five)
Reviewed by James Karas
Another Canadian premiere from Opera Atelier? Yes. Mozart’s Lucio Silla has never been produced in Canada and if you consider that it was first performed in Milan in 1772 it does make for one hell of a coffee break.
Mozart composed Lucio Silla when he was sixteen years old and was already a veteran composer. The work complies with the conventions of opera seria which means a silly plot developed though recitatives, long (very long) arias and a few choruses and duets.
The company of Lucio Silla. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Marshall Pynkoski has found many ways to turn the opera, with all its virtues and shortcomings, into an astounding production.
The arias whose words have often very little to do with the intended emotion sound thrilling if sung by superb voices. Pynkoski has four sopranos and a baritone who sing the bravura and beautiful arias as well as the inane and ineffectual simply gorgeously. The characters may be cardboard figures but their vocal prowess is not.
The plot? Dictator Lucio Silla (tenor Krešimir Spicer) loves Giunia (soprano Meghan Lindsay) who (a) hates him because he killed her father and (b) is aggressively faithful and in in love with Cecilio (soprano Peggy Kriha Dye). Lucio’s sister Celia (Mireille Asselin) tries to give her brother some pointers about wooing and tries to convince Giunia that Lucio is not a bad catch. Celia loves Cinna (soprano Inga Kalna). The opera has another tenor, Aufidio, but Pynkoski has fired him making my summary and the performance shorter. Oh yes, it turns out that Lucio is not such a bad guy and they all live happily ever after.
Giunia gets some of the best arias. She grieves for her father, meets Cecilio whom she thought dead and goes through some severe emotional scenes by opera seria standards. Lindsay handles them all with vocal splendour.
Asselin as Celia has lighter music but her singing is simply superb. Inga sings the role of the plotting Cinna who recommends that Giunia marry Lucio and slash his throat as a honeymoon night present. Kriha Dye sings the melodramatic Cecilio who has a lot to be melodramatic about what with the imminent possibility of losing his love and his life. Again marvelous singing.
Kresimir Spicer (front) with Peggy Kriha Dye and Meghan Lindsay (behind) with artists of Atelier Ballet.
Photo by Bruce Zinger.
The only male in the production is Spicer as the unhinged Lucio. He seems to have the most fun as he blusters, threatens and overdoes everything. A fine performance in every way by Spicer.
Pynkoski and Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg take care to make full use of the stage and provide judicious movement to alleviate the length of some of the arias. What could be painfully static appears less so. Shrewd use of dancing has the same effect.
The gorgeous costumes and set by Gerard Gauci add significantly to the enjoyment of the opera. Gauci provides panels and backdrops of monumental scenes of ancient Rome. The scene changes from somewhere outside Rome, to an interior, to the entrance to a burial chamber to a prison and the outside of the Roman capitol are done swiftly and effectively.
David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra to produce its usual glorious sound and the Atelier Ballet under Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg adds the icing on the cake.
The straight-jacket conventions of opera seria were not helped by Giovanni de Gamerra, abbot, soldier, playwright and really lousy librettist, who provided the turgid text for the opera. Mozart did much better with his music albeit within the conventions.
Opera Atelier has loosened the straightjacket, managed to respect the conventions and still give us a fabulous production. It will not make Lucio Silla your favourite opera but you will be glad you saw it.