Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Kurt Streit, Patricia Petibon, Silvia Tro and Inga Kalna, among others. Titulares Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Theater.
Musical director: Ivor Bolton. Stage director: Claus Guth.
Teatro Real, until September 23.
On December 18, 1772, Leopold Mozart wrote to his wife from Milan, informing her that the following day rehearsals would begin with the orchestra of Lucio Chair, the opera that his son was composing on behalf of the Teatro Regio Ducal. The new tenor who was to sing the title role (a mediocre and inexperienced last minute substitute) had arrived the day before and “Wolfgang has composed two arias for him today and he still has two more to write. […] I write to you at eleven o’clock at night and Wolfgang has just finished the second aria for the tenor ”. Everything had to be done against the clock, because “on Saturday 26, the day you will receive this letter, we will have the premiere of the opera.” Perhaps just after finishing that aria, Wolfgang wrote in a third page a short and loving note for his beloved Nannerl (up to eight times he writes, almost like a mantra, “My dear sister”), to which he says goodbye by calling her “my little lung” , “My liver” and “my stomach”, while forcing him to turn the paper over and over 180 degrees to be able to read its contents, since this is exactly what he did on the table by reversing the orientation of the writing on alternate lines. A joke, a childishness that contrasts with an improper handwriting of a 16-year-old boy who was also composing face-to-face with the exalted genre, nothing less than a operate serious.
Perfectly aware of his conventions, Mozart expands on long recitatives and no less generous arias, many of inclement difficulty, with a soloist writing often more instrumental than vocal: a slit through which the composer’s inexperienced logic peeks out. But Bolton from the harpsichord and Guth from the stage are in charge not only of hiding the shortcomings, but also of enhancing the virtues of the material before them. The British, with a very careful, agile direction, attentive to the articulation, to the balance between string and wind, to convert the recitatives – usually very slow and commanded by himself from the harpsichord – into almost savory dialogues between the characters or even , in a specific case of the second act, in a monologue declaimed by Cecilio without instruments, thus enthroning the importance of the text. At the other extreme, the arias by Lucio Silla, where the tenor shares the limelight with an even more hyperactive orchestra if possible, perhaps to counteract the paucity of his vocal writing.
Guth, for his part, makes up for this disadvantage (Mozart wrote these arias in extremis for a singer from three to a quarter) filling his performance with content, drawing an insecure, capricious, doubtful, weak, drinker, unreliable, unpredictable character, who does not even arouse trust or sympathy among his own or among the public at the end of the opera, when it shows its munificence for the first time. He happy ending ends up not being such, in keeping with a dark and grayish scenery like a catacomb, a concrete bunker, an outlaw dungeon or a Hades populated by shadows projected on straight and curved walls in a rotating platform that foreshadows what, from different budgets and maturity even older, would Guth later in Parsifal and RodelindaBoth recently and justly applauded at the Teatro Real. The German turns a youthful score into an adult opera, very adult, and makes a virtue of necessity by taking advantage of the extreme length of the arias to construct almost autonomous theatrical scenes, closed in on themselves, that foreshadow, recall or gloss other precedents or subsequent thanks to the presence of other characters.
The cut arias (by Cecilio, Giunia and Celia, in this order) are distributed evenly and, like the severely pruned recitatives, they do not affect the dramaturgical architecture devised by Guth, lavish in details of theatrical genius and musical sensitivity, as when Giunia and Cecilio’s hands join at the very beginning of a recitative accompanied by the second, “Ah if he calls me to die”, thus mimicking what both had done in the final duet of the first act: the touching hands are a recurring element in the production. Another flash of genius comes when Giunia, in an improvised passage in full cadence in her second act aria, emits an over-treble that is almost a cry of horror at the unexpected presence of Lucio Silla: music at the service of the scene, and vice versa .
The solo sextet ‒two sopranos, two mezzos and two tenors: a strange combination‒ they sing and act admirably, but the highest level is set by Patricia Petibon and Silvia Tro. The French woman dominates body language, her coloratura is much more than cascades of notes and she builds detail by detail, subtlety by subtlety, her character. The Spaniard is a brave, fierce singer, and her second act aria revealed an opera player of enormous stature. Somewhat below, although at a very high level, the vocal and stage performance of María José Moreno and Inga Kalna. Kurt Streit is a splendid actor (an essential requirement in Guth’s conception) and a good singer, although his voice is already somewhat worn. Surprisingly disappointing the performance of the choir, which only took flight in its final intervention from the proscenium boxes.
On December 26, 1772, Leopold wrote to his wife again, “two or three hours” before the supposed premiere of the opera. However, on January 2, he told him that its beginning ended up being delayed up to three hours by a whim of the Duke of Milan, so the opera “did not end until two in the morning.” He also criticizes the leading tenor for the laughter that his stage exaggerations aroused in the audience: Lucio Chair It is not a work to laugh at. The only smile ‒sardonic, almost a cruel frozen grimace‒ arrives in Guth’s grim production in the very last measure, when the Roman dictator appears by surprise like a brief and disturbing flash, the toga he had just discarded, recovered again, over the two troubled pairs of lovers. And it is that a Mozart opera, even written by a daring, joking and uninhibited teenager, is always a very serious matter.
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