Pre-Democracy with Lucio Silla

I had an epiphany watching today’s presentation of Lucio Silla from Opera in Concert in the St Lawrence Centre.

In my review of the opening night of Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy (that opened at the Tarragon Theatre last Thursday) I included reference to the series Succession, noticing how both the play and the tv shows take us into the creepy family politics of the rich & powerful.

It hit me that the next thing I saw is the 18th century’s version of the same story, even if we’d think of Lucio Silla as “Pre-Democracy” rather than “Post-.” Ditto for works such as Abduction from the Seraglio or La Clemenza di Tito, operas created for a wealthy class as though to reassure the public that tyranny isn’t really that bad.

The families in Moscovitch’s world or in Succession are truthful representations, which is to say, fraught with corruption. Now imagine if they were to emulate Giovanni de Gamerra, Mozart’s librettist: in crafting a happy ending. Of course theatre has become more sophisticated, audiences have stopped swallowing this idea that the aristocrats are really okay, that we just have to let them show us their soft fuzzy side. Daddy Warbucks too is a distant relative, a plutocrat created for and by another era. Now that the guillotines have been misplaced, the masses inured via social media, Donald Trump and the plutocrats don’t need to learn how to fake niceness.

So at least I must thank OIC for bringing this opera back to Toronto. I’m fortunate to have seen Opera Atelier’s production over six years ago, when I was blown away by the inventiveness of the 16 year old Mozart.

We may on occasion miss the sets and the costumes watching concert performances: but this wasn’t one of those times. Music Director Suzy Smith and Chorus Director Robert Cooper made sure that Mozart was well served. We heard some lovely piano elaborations during the recitatives, passages where the intensity can let down if one isn’t thorough. Smith was especially impressive in the last ten minutes of the opera, pages that seem to be ferociously difficult to play: but were executed flawlessly.

Guillermo Silva-Marin, General Director of Voicebox Opera in Concert

I’m sad that it was just a single performance, wishing I could see and hear them again, grateful to OIC General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin for having assembled this remarkable cast. There are no small parts in this opera.

We began with Cecilio and his friend Cinna, sung by Holly Chaplin and Julia MacVicar, two coloraturas smoldering with dramatic intensity. Then we meet Celia and Giunia, sung by Vania Chan and Amy Moodie, also singing remarkable passages including more coloratura with Chan adding a comic dimension to the proceedings. Tenor Owen McCausland in the title role steps forward with enough testosterone to balance the four high voices, a dictator worthy of the name: even if he will abdicate at the end.

(morning after thoughts:
Did this opera fail to catch on because it challenges so many singers? too many challenging coloratura voices at one time? or does it challenge the audience, failing to differentiate sufficiently, not enough variety? The performance was blissful for us, grateful to hear so many excellent voices)

The soloists, the chorus and the piano all sounded wonderful.

I dream of this work finding its way into the standard rep. At least we have OIC to remind us of the possibilities.

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