Mozart’s Lucio Silla, Buxton International Festival’s third operatic offering this year in a co-production with the renowned period instrument orchestra, The English Concert, is a visual mess!
Redemption can be found in the strong music values, although even here it can sound a little thin at times. Not even Mozart could write so many arias to cram into just over 150 minutes each with the same high degree of quality.
For a predominantly young cast, the singing is extremely accomplished and delivered with considerable confidence no matter how technically difficult. Where two of the singers are concerned, the assurance is extraordinary!
The two en travesti (in trouser roles) as it happens, originally written for castrati: the exiled Lucio Cinna – Czech soprano Karolina Plickovcá, and his friend Cecilio – New Zealand soprano Madeleine Pierard, Buxton’s Louise in the concert performance of Charpentier’s opera two years ago.
Both act and look uncannily like men (one notch at least for the production team) and have superbly sound vocal techniques. Coloratura runs are fearlessly and faultlessly delivered as is all they do is and always with firm vocal line.
Rebecca Bottone, as Cecilio’s beloved Giunia, took a while to entirely warm up but when she did there was next to nothing to carp about – on the contrary! In the other, less demanding female role of Celia, Lucio Silla’s sister, Fflur Wyn sings with great vocal beauty and no apparent embarrassment over her weird costuming.
Silla himself is in the more than capable dramatic and vocal hands of Joshua Ellicot, a tenor who usually livens things when he appears, but not to the lengths of inadvertently causing inappropriate loud audience laughter at the opera’s dénouement on the opening night.
Leading us back to American stage director Harry Silverstein’s production and a taste of its many shortcomings!
Opera seria, what Lucio Silla is, is not easy to stage for contemporary audiences.
Dramatically, it is primarily static and affected so a point of focus is needed for involvement and an understanding of what’s happening – it just isn’t there!
Silverstein’s appears not to know what to do with the characters. They stand around like spare parts as one their number sings a long aria, or engages in a lengthy stretch of recititative.
How many times do we see a character singing an aria apparently begin to exit the stage before turning back and continuing it? Sometimes more than once! Or the number of times someone sitting on the lower steps of a metal staircase?
Throughout, the boring-on-the eye set consists of three giant screens of scaffolding construction, initially draped in plastic gaudy, abstract coloured plastic sheeting.
On the first night, one peeled off by a third of its length as one character sang O ciel (Oh, heavens)! It came down completely, as did the other two, when Silla tore them down in a fit of pique!
Costuming is utterly bizarre. The military look as if they strayed from Ivor Novello’s Ruritania. The chorus sports motley clothing that could have come from a charity shop.
Celia wears what looks like party dresses. Cinna looks like a beau from Mozart’s time, while a shabby Cecilio wears a hoodie top and turned up jeans.