Lucio Silla, the Roman-themed soap opera (Theater an der Wien, 27 April 2016)

The rumours aren’t true, the great Viennese beast has not gulped me 😉 I’ve just been tired and/or otherwise engaged but luckily today is an absolutely lovely Mayday, super slow and lazy at work = perfect blog updating conditions.

So whilst being distracted by life I missed the fact TadW was going to and did livestream this. Anyway, my main reason for going was to hear the Arnold Schoenberg Choir in the flesh. This is hardly the most choir-friendly opera (they had exactly 3 things to sing, though they were on stage for much longer than that) but having sorely missed them (and Rene Jacobs) in Idomeneo earlier this year I took my chances this time, because seeing them in the same place where I “found” them is extra special.

Also though Bayerische Staatsoper is my temple of music, Theater an der Wien is currently the place where I’ve had the best all around memories – each of the three times I’ve been there was memorable in its own way. This reminds me of a short chat I had with thadieu yesterday where she made me pause for a moment and put things in perspective. Namely, what a great venue Wigmore Hall is. But the heart is easily seduced by greener pastures, isn’t it? 😉 Now’s a good moment to take a deep breath and ponder on the luxury of having been able to attend performances at all of them.

Stop! In the name of OSKHJ.

Lucio Silla: Alessandro Liberatore
Giunia: Olga Pudova
Cecilio: Franco Fagioli
Cinna: Chiara Skerath
Celia: Ilse Eerens
Conductor: Laurence Equilbey | Insula Orchestra | Arnold Schoenberg Choir

It’s no mystery that I’m fond of Mozart’s opera seria of which the chunkiest ones are Mitridate, Silla, Idomeneo and Tito. Mitridate and Idomeneo have in common the parent-child relationship whereas Silla and Tito are two takes on the benevolent ruler faced with a difficult personal choice cliche. Out of the last two, Silla has the severely inferior libretto, the type where historical fact is but a background for soap opera twists and turns. Which is annoying, as real life Silla was a rather interesting character.

In our case he’s (fictionally) fixated on Cecilio’s wife Giunia, reason for which he banishes Cecilio from Rome, hoping Giunia – incidentally, the daughter of the man he has deposed (Gaius Marius, the great reformer of the Roman army) – will eventually warm up to his insistence. She’s a constant 18th century heroine, so of course she doesn’t, however she has the opportunity to verbally abuse him (with great vocal florish) at every turn. Mozart has written some of his most gleefully difficult music for her and rare is the soprano who can do it proper justice.

Our Giunia was rather good (keeping in mind that I’m sold on Gruberova in this role). She did an especially satifying job with Ah se il crudel periglio which means her coloratura and breath control are exemplary. Basically Giunia’s breath is catching because she’s scared shitless. I’ve heard established sopranos struggle to make its seemingly endless grupetti sound natural instead of backfiring machine gun set to a metronome 😉 She wasn’t quite as emotionally elaborate as the above towering example but I was pleasantly impressed with her fearless approach and technical skill. So if I find it a bit difficult to be objective, let me go further the other way and admit that I found Pudova way cute and I had a hard time looking elsewhere when she was on stage.

Her interactions – both vocal and dramatic – with Fagioli’s Cecilio were excellent and believable, expecially in their D’elisio in sen m’attendi, another one of those swoony Mozart sexy love duets. Who can resist the heart flutter-like twin coloratura? D’elisio… can sit any day next to S’io non moro a questi accenti and Ah perdona il primo affetto. We need two singers to do an entire Mozart sexy duets recital together 😀 My only complaint is that she felt a bit underprojected before intermission. Maybe she needed some time to warm up.

Cecilio was Franco Fagioli whom I was eager to see again in Mozart, now in a smaller house than the ROH. The smaller, more intimate venue certainly works in his favour, especially when it came to understanding what he was saying. His diction is not his strongest point in general but in this case it wasn’t usually a challenge. The trademark warmth of his delivery was also much better supported by TadW’s acoustics.

Though I think he needs more “body”1 for Il tenero momento for the voice to bloom in the beautifully expansive manner that Mozart seems to ask for, he provided a really lovely diminuendo in the da capo and sounded (here and elsewhere) gorgeous and seductive when sentiment was called for. Reminiscent of his usual Baroque repertoire, his take on the bravura aria was satisfying. He got a bit buried in the duets with Pudova’s Giunia but their voice mix was good – they sound the same at the top which works for a lovers’ duet.

Liberatore in the title role (who’s already sung Lucio in that rather meh Liceu production from a couple years back) would make (has made?) a good Idomeneo, given that his bravura aria, Il desìo di vendetta, e di morte, is pretty much a proto Fuor del mar. His bigger voice provided good contrast with the others, especially effective in the trio with Cecilio and Giunia. He makes a pretty good villain.

Ilse Eerens’ (Celia) voice was particularly well projected with a bright top but not excessive ping, good take on top notes (good differentiation) and consistently good acting as everybody’s go-between. She’s Lucio’s sister in love with dissenter Cinna (Cecilio’s best buddy) and on friendly terms with Giunia. Her job is mostly to help Lucio calm (the hell) down and hide her interest in enemies of the state.

Celia’s boyfriend Cinna was sung with pluck by soprano Chiara Skerath. She did a pretty good job in this somewhat thankless trouser role. I think she actually has a solid middle, which is not bad at all for a young soprano 😉 Her coloratura is reliable for early Mozart, though perhaps more vocal oomph was needed to bring across Cinna as the outlaw Annio that he is. Her stage movement was good enough but I think she needs work on facial expressions, especially when she’s not singing.

Now onto the Arnold Schoenberg Choir = not enough singing!!!! Otherwise OMG2, we got a little glimpse at what it can do – very well drilled, lovely tone across the voices, great interplay between the sopranos and the tenors, real expressivity from the get-go, personality – once you heard it, you will recognise it – and, as Anik said, they brought a “Gluck-ish” feel to the proceedings that really worked in this intimate setting by giving it a sort of introverted gravitas.

The moment they got up and started to sing in the scene where Giunia is visiting her father’s grave is still vivid in my mind. A good choir can have a similar effect on you to hearing a favourite singer. But then they also featured on my favourite Silla recording, the Harnoncourt/Gruberova/Bartoli one from 1989 which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in getting (better) acquainted with this opera. Forget about the plot and just listen.

The performance was semi-staged, which meant the singers were in (contemporary) costume and fussed around with some boards but also the Personnenregie was paid more attention to than you’d normally get in a concert performance. I’d say TadW is getting quite good at recycling its surplus stage equipment 😉 Cecilio and Cinna play around with graffiti red and white chalk, which made me think next time they might  give the young chaps a sandbox.

At some point we have Giunia visit Cecilio in prison. That was represented by them talking to each other through mesh fixed to the frame that was normally holding up the boards the boys (yes, not men) were practicing their graffiti skills on. At the end Giunia tears it down and walks through it (ok, around it) to amusing effect (at least for some of us).

Though I wasn’t quite as underwhelmed by Equilbey/Insula Orchestra as thadieu was, I can’t say that I got a very vivid picture about the working of the whole either. The overture – one of my favourites – was taken at a more languid pace than I’m used to from Harnoncourt’s recording. It felt a bit disconcerting but that’s what happens when you have very clear favourites. I liked the very disciplined and prominent though not intrusive harpsichord throughout and I noticed the strings in bulk come in very handsomely at the more anguished moments.

Musically, it wasn’t the best evening but, as they say, the sum of the evening was greater than its parts: Mozart, the choir, the venue and the very good company of thadieu and Anik made for another great Viennese memory.

In spite of the (reoccurring) fickle weather (Tuesday was in the mid teens and sunny, Wednesday around 7C and rainy) Vienna continues to exert its subtle lure on me. Mozart and lazy chummy chats will do that to you.


  1. Anik explains why really well in her own take on this performance. 
  2. thadieu has her orchestra!!! moments, I sometimes have my choir!!! moments ;-) 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on May 1, 2016, in classical period, countertenors, live performances, mozart, opera trips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. a pleasure to read your take in comparison, thank you!
    (also, I am SO THERE for that Mozart duet evening. Preferably for two high voices. I am not above adapting Il coro vi dono.)

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