I just got my hands on the La Scala recording of Mozart’s Lucio Silla. It’s the Marshall Pynkoski production that was done at Salzburg, then La Scala, then in somewhat modified form at Opera Atelier in Toronto, which I saw. It has provoked lots of thoughts about the work itself, how well the OA aesthetic transfers to another house and how seeing a production on video differs from seeing it live.
When I saw Lucio Silla live I really enjoyed it, maybe in part because the production was less artificial than I expected but, also I think, because my tolerance for opera seria with ten minute long arias is better in the theatre than at home where I can escape. This time around I was really struck by how formulaic the piece is. Sure, the music is often ravishing and it’s hard to credit that it was written by a sixteen year old but structurally it’s formulaic and the libretto is artificial and far from inspired. It seems way longer than it needs to be! Also, with two of three male roles given to female sopranos we have four sopranos and a tenor which is a bit samey.
The OA aesthetic in Milan is interesting. The designs by Antoine Fontaine are not the ones used in Toronto which featured the usual OA suspects. They are much more restrained. Then there’s the way this production blends the naturalistic and classic OA baroque gesture and the usual ballet elements. Sometimes it seems almost schizophrenic, though in an odd way it works, It’s really apparent in the last twenty minutes or so. Krešimir Spicer, as Silla, moves to a ladder at the audience side of the pit for his final aria Se al generoso ardire. He sings this very long set piece very beautifully and his acting is entirely naturalistic. Then for the grand finale he strides up stage and strikes a highly stylized pose as part of a tableau vivant featuring the whole cast, chorus and dancers. Here he declaims the denouement recitative while striking baroque poses. Then very Jeanette Zingg ballet breaks out in front of the chorus for the big final number. It’s a bit odd and it happens a lot. Sometimes it’s like the recit/drama elements are stylized and the aria/emotion sections are not but it’s not entirely consistent.
The video direction, by Arnalda Canali, is pretty typical, which means that although there are opportunities to see the full stage picture there are lots of close ups too. I’m not sure this works too well with Pynkoski who is very much about artfully arranged stage pictures. I do think ballet ensembles in particular need full stage treatment. There’s no merit in focusing on the upper bodies of two dancers. It also brings aspects of the production, literally, into closer focus. In the theatre, if it was there, I missed the almost Walküre scale brother/sister action which is very apparent on the video.
Production aside there’s some really good music making on the disk. Spicer is fantastic throughout and he produces some very beautiful singing. He’s well matched by Marianne Crebassa as the exiled Cecilio. Nobody would mistake her for a man, let alone a Roman senator, though! She’s much too pretty. In a different way the same can be said of Inga Kalna’s Cinna. The two girly girls are also pretty goodwith some particularly fine singing from Lenneke Ruiten as Guinia, Cecilio’s betrothed. Giulia Semenzato as Silla’s sister makes the most of her limited opportunities. The chorus is used sparingly; sometimes off stage, sometimes on, and sings well. They really don’t have to act. The La Scala dancers seem surprisingly at home with Zingg’s choreography. Marc Minkowski conducts the house orchestra on modern instruments. It sounds fine but quite different from Tafelmusik.
The blu-ray edition is very good with an excellent quality 1080i picture and clear DTS-HD MA surround sound. There are no extras on the disk bar a few trailers for other La Scala productions. The booklet contains a track listing, a synopsis and a not very useful essay. Sub title options are (curiously archaic) English, Italian, French, German, Korean and Japanese.
This is the only Lucio Silla currently available as a standalone video, though there’s a DVD version in Salzburg M22 set, if that’s actually still available. It’s also one of the few opportunities on video to see the style of production that Opera Atelier creates, even if this is not the full on OA experience.