SCRUTINY | VOICEBOX Opera In Concert Opens New Mainstage Season With Scintillating Lucio Silla

By Joseph So on November 21, 2022

Opera in Concert's Lucio Silla (Photo courtesy of Opera in Concert)
Opera in Concert’s Lucio Silla (Photo courtesy of Opera in Concert)

Mozart: Lucio Silla. Owen McCausland (Lucio Silla), Vania Chan (Celia), Amy Moodie (Giunia), Holly Chaplin (Cecilio), Julia MacVicar (Lucio Cinna), Steven Wang (Aufidio); Suzy Smith, music director & pianist; Robert Cooper, chorusmaster; Guillermo Silva-Marin, dramatic advisor. Jane Mallet Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, November 20, 2022.

Opera in Concert’s 2022-23 mainstage season opened on Sunday afternoon with a single performance of Mozart’s Lucio Silla. As luck would have it, the performance coincided with the annual Santa Claus Parade. The streets were virtually impassible to traffic, scaring audience away. Those who made it were treated to a most enjoyable afternoon of Mozartian magic.

It’s mind-boggling to think that Mozart could have composed something so sophisticated at the tender age of 16. In fact, Lucio Silla is considered Mozart’s eighth staged vocal work. It premiered in 1772, at the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan. November 20, 2022 is just a month short of this opera’s 250th anniversary, a perfect reason for a revival!

While not nearly as frequently performed as his later works the likes of Cosi, Nozze, Don Giovanni or Die Zauberflöte, Lucio Silla is far from unknown. The first time I saw it was nearly 20 years ago at the Santa Fe Opera Festival, with Gregory Kunde in the title role and Susan Graham as Cecilio. The second time was right here in Toronto six years ago, when it was given a lavish production by Opera Atelier.

In keeping with the OIC format, this performance was in concert, with soloists in formal wear, without sets, just projected images and surtitles. Even with these limitations, there were sufficient stage action to keep it from becoming static. In any case, and I speak for myself, the chief pleasure of Lucio Silla is decidedly not its convoluted plot but its marvellous score, where you can hear snippets of music Mozart recycled later.

Lucio Silla at 3+ hours uncut is a bit of a marathon. The Santa Fe Opera production I saw had two intermissions, and it finished at thirty minutes after midnight. The score as performed here was cut to just over two hours plus one intermission. That said, the best parts remained, and it remains an unalloyed pleasure.

For the purists who think an opera review is incomplete without a plot summary, here it is as brief as possible: The nasty Roman dictator Lucio Silla lusts after Giunia. He had her father killed and her beloved Cecilio banished. Cecilio returns anyway to seek revenge. Giunia refuses Silla’s advances, and she was saved by Cecilio at the last moment. Both are discovered and imprisoned. A huge surprise — Lucio Silla has a change of heart and pardons everyone and gives up power.

The plot is much more complicated than the above, but in my opinion a more detailed summary wouldn’t have helped one’s enjoyment, which is primarily the music. And the OIC performance was truly enjoyable, given by a fine cast of fresh, youthful voices. Top vocal honour goes to Owen McCausland whose budding dramatic tenor was ideal in the title role. He sang with a robust and clarion tone that recalled his COC performances in the title role of La Clemenza di Tito some years ago.

Equally excellent was soprano Amy Moodie, whose full lyric soprano with its gleaming tone and solid technique did total justice to the role of Giunia. The two trouser roles were ably taken by Julia MacVickar (Lucio Cinna) and Holly Chaplin (Cecilio). Vania Chan’s soubrette-like high soprano, coupled with considerable acting chops, was ideal as Celia. The seventeen strong OIC Chorus under Robert Cooper was its wonderful self. Finally, huge kudos to Suzy Smith for her unflagging stamina and total confidence at the piano.

Santa Claus Parade or Mozart? I think I made the right choice — at least for me.

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Joseph So
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