Lucio Silla

About this work

Following the success of Mitridate, the opera seria commissioned by the ducal theater in Milan for the Carnival season of 1770 - 1771, Mozart received a request from Milan for another opera to be given during the equivalent 1772 - 1773 season. Unlike that of Mitridate, the libretto of Lucio Silla, the resulting opera, was new. Its author was Giovanni de Gamerra (1743 - 1803), a former priest and soldier who was now Governor-General of Lombardy. (The libretto was subsequently set in revised form by Johann Christian Bach two years later.) In keeping with the conventions of the day, Mozart wrote the arias after he and his father Leopold arrived on Milan in November 4, 1772, -- star singers of the day expected to work on their set pieces with the composer. And Mozart certainly had star singers for Lucio Silla. They included one of Italy's greatest sopranos, Anna de Amicis, who sang the part of the heroine Giunia, and the great castrato Venanzio Rauzzini in the title role. Leopold Mozart's letters to his wife in Salzburg provide a rare and valuable insight into the building of an operatic production; although hinting that rehearsals were not without problems, he is full of praise for de Amicis -- "She sings and acts like an angel," he wrote. After a trouble-fraught first night on December 26, when the start was delayed for three hours by the late arrival of the Archduke (the performance was finished at 2 a.m.!), the opera eventually made its mark. "Thank God, the opera is an extraordinary success," Leopold was able to write home on January 9.

Lucio Silla marks a considerable advance on Mitridate, showing just how quickly Mozart was learning to cater to Italian tastes. Here for the first time we find Mozart responding to a human predicament, in this instance the faithful love of the patrician Giunia for her betrothed, the banished Roman senator Cecilio, in the face of unwanted attention from the dictator Lucio Silla. Mozart's sympathy for the beleaguered Giunia is fully engaged in a number of beautiful arias that frequently break through seria conventions. And there is new confidence in the orchestral writing, expressed above all in the darkly somber music Mozart provided for the remarkable extended scene in which Cecilio sadly wanders the catacombs that house former Roman heroes. While not wholly avoiding the conventional, Lucio Silla may be considered to mark Mozart's coming of age as an operatic composer.