Lucio Silla at the Buxton Festival

Seeing Mozart’s Lucio Silla at Buxton within a week of La Finta Giardiniera at the Ryedale Festival (see my blog of 16th July) confirmed what an extraordinary musical-dramatist the composer was as a teenager. It is not merely the brilliance of the vocal writing and its intense emotional content. It is also the range of expression for the orchestra, the crunching harmonies, the beguiling phrases, some of this to accompany recitatives. Admittedly Buxton is fortunate to have secured the services of conductor Laurence Cummings and his specialist band the English Concert. For me, they were the heroes of the evening. Played with lots of fizz, this was an exciting rendering of the score, but also, when necessary to render pathos or tenderness, it was restrained in dynamics and tempo.

A fine bunch of soloists coped extremely well with the considerable demands made of them. Rebecca Bottone as Giunia had a commanding stage presence and had so internalised the coloratura acrobatic lines of her arias that they emerged as a natural expression of her feelings. Fflur Wyn as Celia pinged delightfully up and down the scales. Both of the sopranos playing male characters, Madeleine Pierard and Karolina Plicková, offered interesting interpretations. The former as Cecilio, an outsider in hooded jacket and jeans – notwithstanding an announced throat infection, she sang beautifully with a rich lower register; the latter as Cinna, an ineffectual man-about-town. In the title role Joshua Ellicott, though perhaps a little melodramatically, made much of the text and musical phrasing.

Harry Silverstein’s production was exactly how I like opera seria to be staged: a simple, abstract decors (designer Linda Buchanan) with the drama enhanced by strong lighting effects; and with physical movements constrained to match the music. As an indicator of astute stage direction in works of this kind, observe closely the gestures and facial expressions of those NOT singing during the long arias. Here they were employed in a subtle way to underpin the significance of the soloist’s utterances.

We may not have been totally convinced with the denouement of Lucio Silla, how virtue can in the end overcome evil, but this was a performance, dramatically powerful and musically exhilarating.