An Appreciation: Lucio Silla

by Lynn on April 17, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Was at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Giovanna de Gamerra
Directed by Marshall Pynkoski
Conductor, David Fallis
Choreography by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg
Set and Costumes by Gerard Gauci
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Starring: Mireille Asselin
Peggy Kriha Dye
Inga Kalna
Meghan Lindsay
Krešimir Špicer

Note: There have been so many show openings I got overwhelmed and missed reviewing the beautiful Opera Atelier production of Lucio Silla during its one week run. It ended April 16. This is an appreciation of the piece and the company. And as is usual when I see opera, I will focus on the theatricality of the piece and not the quality of the music, which isn’t my forte. Besides, it’s Mozart for heaven sake! What needs to be said?

The Story. Lucio Silla is your typical dictator; in this case it’s Rome. He’s a bully who wants what he sees and removes all obstacles to get it. In this case he wants Giunia. Never mind that he’s killed her father in a political coup. Never mind that he banished Giunia’s fiancé Cecilio and spread a rumour that he was dead. Lucio Silla wants Giunia for his own bride and urges his sister Celia to try and win over Giunia. His sister also loves Cinna and hopes to marry him—but he is revealed as a traitor, so the bully brother doesn’t take too kindly to that.

Giunia can’t be convinced to marry Lucio Silla. Giunia loathes him and nothing will change her mind, not threats, not the suggestion of violence, not even death. In the meantime Cecilio sneaks back to Rome to see Giunia. They meet when Giunia comes to the cemetery to visit her father’s grave. She thinks he’s a ghost but learns soon enough he’s not.

There are plots to kill Lucio Silla. Lucio Silla captures Cecilio and puts him in prison and prepares to have him executed. Lucio Silla puts pressure on Giunia to marry him. She says she will die first and is prepared to kill herself when her fiancé is put to death.

But seeing the total devotion Giunia and Cecilio have for each other, Lucio Silla has a startling change of heart and pardons Cecilio and later Cinna so that Giunia and Celia can marry the men of their choice. A bully reforms. And everybody sings gloriously.

The Production. In this noisy world of high-tech concepts of operas which often ignore the opera in favour of the director’s need to show off, thank heaven for the quiet, artful oasis that is Opera Atelier. The company is now celebrating 30 years of producing beautiful, stylized productions in the precise, formal way of the Baroque Opera.

Co-artistic directors, Marshal Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg formed the company to produced Baroque Operas in the precise, artistic style of the times in which they were created. This means the movement is very formal, as is the dance. Poses look as if a character stepped from a painting on to a stage. Indeed the co-artistic directors get their inspiration for the ‘look’ of their productions by looking at paintings of the period, noting the placement of a hand or a foot, physical expressions to convey emotions; how to sit or stand with conviction.

In Gerard Gauci’s set the majesty of Rome is established by impressively painted backdrops that are lowered down with a tableau of an impressive building or lush vegetation. Props are few. The costumes are beautiful and sumptuous. Because coats and dresses have huge swaths of material the cast had an impressive time flicking the tails of a coat with a flourish, certainly Krešimir Špicer as Lucio Silla had a grand, flicking time. Mr. Špicer is strapping and imposing. You can believe he would pummel an opponent for no reason other than he/she annoyed him. He also knows how to flick his coat tails back for dramatic effect. Inga Kalna as Cinna (yes women played men’s parts) also had her moments of impressive coat-tail flips.

While I shouldn’t comment on singing, Ms. Kalna handled her trills with ease and nailed the notes effortlessly. So often the singer gets caught up in the speed of the trill and seems to loose the breath over it. Not Ms Kalna. Peggy Kriha Dye played Cecilio with a boyish grace and energy. Meghan Lindsay played Giunia with a sense of overwhelming grief. Of course Giunia had lost her father and she thinks her fiancé is dead so of course she is bereft. There was also majesty in her playing of the role. Mireille Asselin played Celia as a confident woman whose brother has all the power. There were moments in Marshall Pynkoski’s staging that might have suggested that brother and sister had closer affections than one might expect of a brother and a sister—or was that my imagination?

Comment. I am so grateful to see this company. Pynkoski and Zingg have a scrupulous attention to detail and never skimp on quality. The results are the most lavish looking, authentically Baroque operas that offer a master class in being true to a period with out any deviation. It is an education to note the hold of a hand, the pose in a moment. Concepts are for others. Doing these classics—yes even this first opera by Mozart who wrote it when he was 16!—are worth doing as one might have seen them in Mozart’s day. Proof of this company’s renown is that they are regularly invited to bring these productions to the Festival at Versailles and to the La Scala Opera House. Not too shabby.

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