Lucio Silla review at Opera House, Buxton – ‘a well-sung staging’

Joshua Ellicott and Rebecca Botone in Lucio Sila at Opera House, Buxton. Photo: Robert Workman Joshua Ellicott and Rebecca Botone in Lucio Sila at Opera House, Buxton. Photo: Robert Workman
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The rarely performed Lucio Silla was the last of the three operas Mozart composed for Milan as a teenager – he was not quite 17 when its premiere took place in 1772. It’s also easily amongst the best of his early operas, with some definite pre-echoes of his first accepted masterpiece, Idomeneo, written nine years later.

Its subject is the ancient general and dictator Lucius Sulla (sic), who ruled Rome around 80BC but eventually – so history records – retreated to the country with his wife and his boyfriend. In Mozart’s opera, there is no wife and no boyfriend, while both politically and personally Silla the ruler is a villain and a bully until a sudden late change of heart causes him to pardon his enemies and allow them to marry whomsoever they please; one might think this a rather fanciful view of how dictators behave, but the librettist’s intention was presumably to set-up an ideal for contemporary leaders to follow.

At any rate, Harry Silverstein’s modern-dress production, with its low-key but serviceable designs by Linda Buchanan, gives credibility to the characters and their situations, however high-flown, while the general standard of singing in an opera that demands virtuosity from all its principals is never less than honourable and regularly more.

Joshua Ellicott succeeds in giving Silla an angry and unstable persona, as he victimises Rebecca Bottone’s often frantic Giunia, Madeleine Pierard’s fearless Cecilio, Fflur Wyn’s cleanly articulated Celia and Karolina Plickova’s bold Cinna; as Silla’s loyal henchman Aufidio, Ben Thapa clearly has his doubts about his boss’s policies, but goes along with them anyway.

A major asset is the stylish and sharply defined playing of The English Concert in the pit, while conductor Laurence Cummings superintends a performance with plenty of musical and dramatic clout.

Mozart’s early opera registers impressively in this focused, well sung staging