Lucio Silla @ Brussels

Mozart was 16 when he composed Lucio Silla but it remained the last opera he wrote for Italy for after the opera premiered during the Carneval season of 1773, the Regio Ducal Teatro (for whom Mozart wrote Mitridate and Ascanio in Alba) did not commission any more operas to Mozart. The opera has no easy or proper plot, which is not uncommon in operas of that period. Although the librettist Giovanni de Gamerra went on to play a small role in the development of what was to become romantic opera, the characters in Lucio Silla are very static. Mozart composed a varied palette of music, some conventional pieces, others remarkably deep, using some new and elaborate forms, a considerable amout of recitativi accompagnati-a more dramatic form than the recitativo secco-and expanding the orchestra with trumpets, giving the orchestra more elaborate writings then relegate it to a standard accompaniment. Recitivi were written when still in Salzburg while the arias were composed tailormaid to the strengths of the singers. They all turned up in Milan between end of November and beginning of December 1772. The first Cecilio was the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, while the first Giunia was Anna de Amicis, equally famous. De Amicis “was very satisfied with the arias, and Mozart introduced in them passages which are very unusual, unique and extremely difficult and which she sings amazingly well…” father Mozart reported, who was in Milan with his son. Giunia and Cecilio each sing in 7 pieces. And Mozart gives them a wonderful duet to close Act I. Lucio Silla himself sings only in 3 pieces, which is either due to his text written to be conveyed dramatically by the recitativo or by the fact that the originally intended star had to be replaced last minute with a lesser known singer, or both. The new tenor arrived December 17th and the next day Mozart had composed the two arias for him. Cinna has also only 3 arias but has the privilege to sing the first, while Celia’s role lightens the atmosphere, seen that she is not included in the political plot. The full orchestra rehearsals were done the 18, 20 and 22 December, the dress rehearsal the 23rd and the opera was performed the 26th and run for 26 performance, a considerable amount. Mozart was pleased with both Anna de Amicis and Venanzio Rauzzini, and for the latter, around the 15th January, he composed the famous motet Exultate, jubilate.

The director sets the story in modern days and when the curtain rises, one sees a modern house (which later revolves) and tress around it, very much like in Pizzi’s Pietra del paragone, but less stylish. But the plot is quite thin, the da capo arias very long and Tobias Kratzer really only asks for very conventional movements (except for much cutting of veins and a dog running around) and the little action on stage starts boring very soon. The orchestra played the ouverture swiftly and nervously (maybe a bit too nervously?) but Manacorda directed and accompanied very well. I thought Jeremy Ovenden was just acceptable. His lower register weak, his interpretation extremely thin. Much better Lenneke Ruiten. Her role has extreme demands and she manages well with a beautiful and bright top register. In one of the most difficult arias ever written Ah se il crudel periglio she convinces much less (drops a note every now and then to breath). Anna Bonitatinus gave a lovely recital of Rossini songs a couple of weeks back. A forgotten repertoire that she rendered beautifully. But her Cecilio was not as convincing. Her tight vibrato is a bit unpleasant and it seems to me Cecilio is a size too big for her. Her 2nd entrance aria was sung with much transport and fury and was a joy to hear, as was her last aria, but there are constant struggles with pitch. Marvellous Simona Saturova as Celia. She sings  her four arias wonderfully and with great taste. I had big hopes for the opening aria but i had to wait for Ilse Eerens to sing her other two arias which allows her to show her bravura. I like her beatiful timbre and clear top notes. Good also Carlo Allemano but untidy roulades.

Conductor-Antonello Manacorda, Director-Tobias Kratzer, Set And Costume Design-Rainer Sellmaier, Lighting-Reinhard Traub, Video–Manuel Braun, Dramaturgy-Krystian Lada, Lucio Silla-Jeremy Ovenden, Giunia-Lenneke Ruiten, Cecilio-Anna Bonitatibus, Celia-Simona Šaturová, Cinna-Ilse Eerens, Aufidio-Carlo Allemano. 7/11/17, pictures by  www.demunt.be

Haendel dyptich in De Munt, Brussels

Tamerlano3_2005_1600x900Two operas by Haendel were given on two consecutive evenings in Brussels, Tamerlano and Alcina, both staged, directed and conducted by the same team. I did’t enjoy Tamerlano half as much as Alcina. Andronico (Delphine Galou) didn’t show a very colorful voice especially approaching the low register but has a good coloratura as shown by the aria “Piu d’una tigre altero“. Jeremy Ovenden as Bajazet is far too short in the lower register to properly sing some of his arias, some of the notes are just not there anymore. With his unrefined singing I find him quite misplaced in baroque. Musically much better I find Sophie Karthauser as Asteria although i missed a proper characterisation of her role. I much enjoyed Ann Hallenberg as Irene and Christoph Dumaux as Tamerlano. Both showed affinity with the baroque style, an even and warm voice, and decent coloratura.
The cast of Alcina was in average much better and homogeneous. Above all the Alcina of Sandrine Piau, who, although with good runs and trials, excelled especially in the lyrical and slower passages. I much enjoyed the rest of the cast and although not perfect, the team spirit sparked life to the score. The only big disappointment : the precious little interest the singers gave to Italian pronunciation. With subtitles that were turned off for the da capo part, it would have been nice to understand some of the text. Hélas.

Both operas were well directed by Christophe Rousset. Staging was a bit monotone in Tamerlano with narrowing panels on both sides of the stage to give a perspective depth. The same panels are used for Alcina (with foliage this time) with as only prop the same chair as in Tamerlano. And same descent of clouds shortly before the end. A change of set came 20 min before the end: the panels disappeared and wooden boxes remained on wooden floor all in warm colours and timeless white clothing. This staging by Pierre Audi was originally conceived for the famous Baroque theater in Drottningholm, which still uses original decors. But overall it was bit boring, considering that baroque operas are hard to listen to with their endless sequence of recitativo and aria (and even more so Haendel, who was rarely inspired in the orchestral part, unlike Vivaldi). So a visual activity in sets would have been welcome (and which was surely intended in Haendel’s time thanks to the famous theatre machinery). Pierre Audi’s stage directions were very varied with people entering and exiting frequently, easing some of the monotony. The question remains to why such operas like Tamerlano and Alcina should be played with the same set as they have little in common.

Tamerlano: Conductor-Christophe Rousset, Director-Pierre Audi, Set design & costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Matthew Richardson, Tamerlano-Christoph Dumaux, Bajazete-Jeremy Ovenden, Asteria-Sophie Karthäuser, Andronico-Delphine Galou, Irene-Ann Hallenberg, Leone-Nathan Berg, Zaide-Caroline D’Haese
Alcina: Conductor-Christophe Rousset, Director-Pierre Audi, Set design & costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Matthew Richardson, Alcina-Sandrine Piau, Ruggiero-Maite Beaumont, Bradamante-Angelique Noldus, Morgana-Sabina Puertolas, Oberto-Chloé Briot, Oronte-Daniel Behle, Melisso-Giovanni Furlanetto, Astolfo-Edouard Higuet