Another fine-tuned success
The Elgin Theatre
04/07/2016 - & April 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 2016
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Lucio Silla, K. 135
Kresimir Spicer (Lucio Silla), Meghan Lindsay (Giunia), Peggy Kriha Dye (Cecilio), Inga Kalna (Cinna), Mireille Asselin (Celia), Artists of Atelier Ballet
The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Opera Atelier Chorus, David Fallis (conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (director), Gerard Gauci (set and costume designer), Michelle Ramsay (lighting designer), Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg (choreographer), Jack Rennie (original fight choreographer), Jennifer Parr (resident fight director)
M. Lindsay & K. Spicer (© Bruce Zinger)
While this lively, sparkling production is brand new, it is the fourth time Opera Atelier’s Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg have mounted a production of Mozart’s adolescent rarity. They were asked to mount it for Salzburg’s Mozart Week in the winter of 2013 as a demonstration of one approach to staging an 18th century work. Conductor Mark Minkoski (who conducted for OA many years back) set this up. It went so well that the great and mighty Salzburg Festival included the production for the 2013 summer festival. This led to a mounting in 2015 at La Scala, Milan, in a production described as “massive” and “lavish” which was recorded and is due for a DVD release.
There is no room for anything massive on the stage of the Elgin Theatre. The company’s resident designer, Gerard Gauci, has created colourful and dynamic sets (and costumes) using old-fashioned canvas backdrops on which he has painted a series of torqued trompe-l’œil views conjuring up a contemporary view of the 18th century’s view of ancient Rome.
The OA production team have followed the course they successfully adopted for their two previous productions of Mozart’s “serious” operas, Idomeneo in 2008 and La clemenza di Tito in 2011. The company style results in a dynamism that permeates every note, movement, and gesture. In this way a stiff and codified type of musical work comes across as urgent, living theatre.
The title character is the bad guy of the plot. Roman dictator Lucio Silla relentlessly pursues Giunia who remains true to her banished swain, Cecilio, who plots Silla’s death. Silla has a lively sister, Celia, in love with Cinna, a friend of Cecilio who joins him in the plot to kill Silla. Many heartfelt arias are sung and there is a stunningly choreographed fight scene. It ends happily.
The version used eliminates a baritone role (Aufidio), Silla’s lieutenant who supports his wicked ways. There is a recording (conducted by Nicolas Harnoncourt) with a similar elipsis, but this version goes further, eliminating some arias to bring the running time (with one interval) under three hours. Ardent completionists might feel shortchanged, but the resulting production is thoroughly satisfying.
The work has a major dramatic flaw in its final scene when the title character, the epitome of vengeful dictator, becomes a total pussycat, allowing the woman he loves to marry a man who was plotting his murder, then allowing his sister to marry yet another plotter, then renouncing his hard won position, thus converting the Roman Republic into some sort of benign commune. This understandably brought forth laughter. To help prepare us for the abrupt denoument, OA has inserted an extra aria just prior to the finale from another Lucio Silla, this one by Mozart’s contemporary Johann Christian Bach. It enlarges the role (otherwise rather skimpy for the title part), and gives Kresimir Spicer, in his sixth role with OA, a chance to tone down his explosive characterization and commune directly with the audience.
I many ways the central role is that of the beleaguered woman, Giunia, who resists the “loving” threats of Silla while remaining faithful to the absent Cecilio. Meghan Lindsay, in her seventh role with OA, delivers a wonderfully focused performance.
An aside: I am struck by the resemblance of the plot and design of vocal roles to Handel’s Rodelinda (London, 1725) where the title role is that of the beleaguered heroine who must fight off the rough wooing of the tenor despot (Grimoaldo) while remaining true to her missing husband (Bertarido). There is also an amorous sister in the plot. Perhaps after a while all the opere serie plots had to converge.
Kresimir Spicer appeared in the production at La Scala as did German soprano Inga Kalna, making her local debut in the role of Cinna. She is a performer of great distinction, grabbing one’s attention from her first utterance. It would be great of she were brought back.
The two other soloists are well-known to the OA audience: Peggy Kriha Dye as the ardent, tormented Cecilio and Mireille Asselin in the work’s comedic role, the flirtatious Celia.
The Tafelmusik Orchestra (30 members for this work) sparkle superbly from the first notes of the three-part overture. The nine-member dance troupe enter toward the end of the staged overture and add their injections of dynamism and grace throughout.
Michelle Ramsay’s moody lighting works wonderfully with the ever-changing sets and physicality of the staging. The whole production adds up to one of Opera Atelier’s most thorough successes.
Apparently the work was quite a success in Milan in 1772, as it is in Toronto 244 years later.