Opera Atelier’s production of Mozart’s Lucio Silla opened last night at the Elgin. This is, more or less, the production that played at the Salzburg Festival and, later, at La Scala to considerable critical acclaim. It’s not hard to see why. It’s much the best thing Opera Atelier has done in a while. It’s more restrained than recent shows and trimmed of excess the familiar approach looks quite fresh again.
I guess most people aren’t terribly familiar with Lucio Silla which Mozart wrote at the ripe old age of sixteen. Structurally it’s classic opera seria with a rather thin plot that imposes a tale of romantic love and spousal loyalty onto a thin backdrop of republican Roman politics. The setting really doesn’t matter. It could be any authoritarian state anywhere. Now, as he pretty much admitted in his pre show speech, Marshall Pynkowski would rather crawl a marathon naked than direct opera seria so we can thank Marc Minkowski for luring him into it and Mozart for writing music so good that Marshall was seduced into treating the piece on its own terms. It’s all there; dry and accompanied recitatives, classic da capo arias and some juicy duets and choruses. The Opera Atelier bingo card is played with some discretion. The dancers are used during the choruses and in the big fight scene but otherwise they appear more often as a sort of tableau vivant than a corps de ballet. Coupled with slick stagecraft; arias in front of the curtain are used to cover scene changes, it means the action is never held up and our attention remains engaged. Other classic OA elements are there. The scenery is painted flats (a couple reminiscent of David). The actors are pretty though the sole male does keep his shirt on. The stylized baroque gestures and running awkwardly across the stage, nose in air, are retained but the overall effect is less mannered than one might expect.
The music making is first rate. The cast may be less starry than in Salzburg (no Rolando Villazón) but it was well up to the cast and very well balanced. Krešimir Spicer was an exceptionally sweet toned Silla; almost too much so for the villain of the piece, and a delight to listen to. Meghan Lindsey had the gravitas to pull off the stiffly virtuous Giunia. Peggy Kriha Dye, in her first pants role (I think), was entirely convincing as the exiled senator and Giunia’s squeeze Cecilio. Inga Kalna was perhaps less convincing dramatically as Cecilo’s bestie Cinna but she sang with a lovely warm tone. And the irrepressible Mireille Asselin provided what comic relief there was as Silla’s sister Celia while providing a pleasing contrast to the other ladies with her brighter tone. All the singing was appropriately stylish and true to the form and really just very enjoyable to listen to. As ever Tafelmusik were in the pit and the chorus actually spent more time on stage than singing from the boxes. David Fallis conducted with the same excellent sense of style as the singers. It all made a pretty strong case for this rarely heard score.
Lucio Silla runs at the Elgin Theatre. There are five more performances between now and April 16th.
Photo credits: Bruce Zinger