Rare Mozart Returns to Barcelona’s Licieu

SpainSpain Mozart: Lucio Silla, Liceu’s Orchestra and Chorus / Harry Bicket (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu. 1 and 2.7.2013. (JMI)

New Production: Liceu in coproduction with Theatre an der Wien and Wiener Festwochen
Direction: Claus Guth
Sets and Costumes: Christian Schmidt
Lighting: Manfred Voss

Lucio Silla: Kurt Streit/Alessandro Liberatore
Giunia: Patricia Petibon/Laura Aikin
Cecilio: Silvia Tro Santafé/Marina Comparato
Lucio Cinna: Inga Kalna/Iano Tamar
Celia: Ofelia Sala/María José Moreno
Aufidio: Antonio Lozano

Lucio Silla returned to the Liceu for the first time since 1987. I remember that performance and today’s version is the better, although the opera, of course, remains the same and presents the same problems.

In the score Mozart is present, although he has of course not reached the musical genius of his mature years. The big problem lies in the libretto, which is monotonous, short of dramatic interest and too long. I am convinced that 10 years later – after Idomeneo – Mozart would not have accepted the libretto or would have required profound changes in it. In any case, this remains an amazing work for a 16 year old.

The stage production bears the signature of Claus Guth, who to me is one of the best directors today. The action is brought up to date, but the whole production is very respectful to both libretto and score. The only twist lies at the end with the appearance of Lucio Scilla at the celebration; this makes it seem that the dictator’s forgiveness might have been a joke.

The same stage direction and the same sets could have been used if Mr.Guth had wanted to place the action in ancient Rome, with only the costumes being different. It is not easy to give life to such a static opera as this, but Claus Guth largely succeeds.

The revolving stage gives a great flexibility to the scene changes, the sets are simple, with a particularly attractive large corridor representing the necropolis containing the tomb of Mario.

Slight changes in props serve perfectly to represent the different scenes. The costumes are attractive and modern and there is superb lighting by Manfred Voss – one of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Harry Bicket’s musical direction raises more reservations for me. His conducting was very careful and controlled, getting a remarkable performance from the orchestra of the Liceu, but for me the direction of Harry Bicket fell short of imagination and inspiration.

Although the title of the opera is Lucio Silla the true protagonist is Giunia, daughter of Mario and object of Silla’s love interest. Patricia Petibon was outstanding on stage. If her vocal performance had been at the same level, we could be talking of an exceptional artist. Ms Petibon sang with taste and emotion but unfortunately there are some uncontrolled sounds and her coloratura is not perfect. In the second cast Giunia was Laura Aikin, who gave a convincing performance. She was also a remarkable performer on stage, singing the arias with passion and emotion.

Kurt Streit is a great singing actor and he gave a remarkable portrayal of Lucio Silla. If this character is not the undisputed star of the opera, it is because for the premiere in Milan Mozart only had a mediocre tenor, requiring him to make the role easier to sing. It is sad that there are no extant copies of the original since it would possibly have given more weight to the character – especially with an artist like Kurt Streit in the role.

Alessandro Liberatore was Lucio Silla in the second cast. He seemed less committed as the protagonist, although his voice is good in the middle range.

Silvia Tro Santafe was good in the part of Cecilio, Giunia’s fiance, while Marina Comparato was rather modest in the second cast, showing problems at the top.

Inga Kalna sang the part of Lucio Cinna in the first cast. Her voice is not very attractive, at least to my taste. The best part of his performance came in the coloratura arias, even though she was a little tight at the top and rather short at the bottom.

Iano Tamar’s voice is not as excellent as it was in the 90s. She maintains the attractive dark color of her voice, but not much more than that. The voice has lost projection, her runs are somewhat laborious and the high notes are problematic.

There were two great Celias, with Ofelia Sala giving one of her best performances of recent years and Maria Jose Moreno making an equally excellent Celia. A real treat.

Tenor Antonio Lozano gave a remarkable performance as Aufidius, the obnoxious Silla’s counselor.

Liceu was at about 90% of its capacity on both evenings. There were resounding cheers for both Giunias and both Celias, and also for Harry Bicket.

José Mª. Irurzun