There’s usually a reason a work is “rarely performed”. Usually it’s awful. And so it was with some reluctance I accepted Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Zingg’s invitation to attend their Opera Atelier’s Toronto premiere of ‘rarely perfromed’ Lucio Silla. Marc Minikowsli had originally commissioned them to stage and choreograph this piece for Mozartwoche. The performance received such rave reviews that both the Salzburg Festival and La Scala in Milan added it to their seasons. We too were properly wowed!
Mozart wrote this opera when he was 16. (Talk about feeling like an under achiever?) It is classic opera seria. A style I had never heard of but was the most fashionable type of opera starting around 1710; renowned for its many and long arias. This genre’s popularity was fading by the time Lucio Silla debuted in 1772.
Opera seria dovetailed with the age of the castrati (cross your legs, boys). Gifted male singers were castrated before puberty to retain a wider vocal range. At the peak of this era, 4000 young boys underwent the painful procedure each year. Parents hoped it was a route out of poverty and onto the stage. Several roles in each opera were written for this specific vocal flexibility. Castration is no longer legal; women now sing these parts. Though rumour has it, not as well as these men once did.
Although I love opera, I am not an aficionado. Philistine that I am, I often find long arias challenging. I’m eager to get on with the story. When Marshall warned the audience about the lengthy opera seria arias I decided I would duck out at the intermission expecting to be bored. I wasn’t at all. The performers were vibrant and the staging creative and energetic. Literally, never a dull moment. The costumes were gorgeous. I was enthralled!
Returning to the old wonderful ornate Elgin Theatre was a trip down memory lane for us… John had sat on Opera Atelier’s board 20 years ago. It was the perfect background for the magnificent, lush and creative sets designed by Gerard Gauci. These sets alone are worth the price of admission.