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Lucio Silla K.135
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Text by: Giovanni Stefano De Gamerra

First Performance: Teatro Regio Ducale, Milan, Italy (26/12/1772)

Sources

1. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

2. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

3. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

4. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

5. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

6. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

7. Manuscript: PL-Kj, Mus. ms. autogr. W. A. Mozart KV 135 (autograph score).

Scoring: 4 S, 2 T, SATB, 2 ob/fl, 2 bn, 2 hn, 2 tpt, timp, str

Letters in which this work is cited | Go to the Digital Mozart Edition Opens in a new window
236 (14 March 1771) | view
239 (19 July 1771) | view
252 (30 October 1771) | view
263 (7 February 1772) | view
266 (14 November 1772) | view
269 (5 December 1772) | view
271 (18 December 1772) | view
272 (26 December 1772) | view
275 (2 January 1773) | view
277 (9 January 1773) | view
Showing the first 10 letters. Show all
Date: October-December 1772

Place: Salzburg and Milan

Librettos: I-Bc, Lo. 3342; A-Wgm; C-Tu, D-B, Tm 1132/10 Mus.; F-Po, Liv. It. 3530 (8); I-Fc @ I-Lurago Sormani, 309/5; I-Ma; I-Mb, racc. drammatica 6072/1; I-Mc, Coll. Libetti 151; I-Ms, Mus.M.XL.17

Notes: Dramma per musica in three acts.

Changes to text by P. Metastasio

The success of Mitridate, Re di Ponto (1770) encouraged the ducal theatre in Milan to commission a second opera from Mozart to open the 1772-1773 carnival season. The contract (4 March 1771) offered Mozart 130 gold gigliati for the work (a 30 per cent increase on the fee for Mitridate) and stated that he should send the recitatives by October 1772 and be in Milan by November to write the arias and rehearse the whole; it was normal to compose the overture and recitatives first, and then the arias only in the presence of the singers so that their abilities could be gauged and exploited. Mozart and his father in fact were in Milan in August-December 1771, when Mozart wrote the serenata Ascanio in Alba for the marriage of Archduke Ferdinand. After ten months in Salzburg, they returned to Italy for a third time, leaving on 24 October (and arriving back on 13 March 1773).

As with Mitridate, the main evidence for the work`s preparations and performance come from the Mozart letters, which are somewhat muted compared with Leopold`s excitement over the earlier work. Perhaps this was because of difficulties over the preparations and rehearsals, or perhaps because Leopold was suffering from rheumatism. Gamerra, the theatre-poet in Milan, fretted over the libretto in the light of criticisms from the great Metastasio; singers arrived late (the primo uomo and prima donna appeared in only late November and early December), fell ill and were replaced at the last minute; and the first performance was delayed by some three hours by the archduke having to write his New Year letters. The performance was also overlong thanks to the presence of three (unrelated) ballets. But towards the end of the run (26 performances), Leopold Mozart was happier to report on the success gradually being gained by Lucio Silla, and rightly so: it is Mozart`s first operatic masterpiece.

The subject is typically drawn from Roman history (after Plutarch) turned into fiction and then cast into an opera seria mould, with a heroic pair of lovers (Junia, Cecilio) opposed by an authority figure (Lucio Silla), a second pair of lovers (Celia, Lucio Cinna) and a minor confidant (Aufidio). The plot as usual revolves around the conflict of love and duty, the virtues of constancy, fidelity and self-sacrifice, and the ultimate reform of a tyrant for the sake of the common good. The whole is presented in a rich variety of scenes (as with Mitridate, designed by the Galliari brothers and perhaps repeating some of the same sets). These are stock themes and the countless works elaborating them were conventionally structured—such that audiences could then enjoy the nuances of playing upon convention—but nonetheless offered powerful lessons in appropriate modes of human behaviour in an age when autocratic absolutism was increasingly a matter of debate. This is not to say that Lucio Silla is a `revolutionary` opera—the genre would not permit such political or social critique—but for all the historical distance, it offers an intriguing mirror on its times.

The scene is set in Rome in 79 BC. In Act 1, Cecilio (Cecilius), an exiled Roman senator in love with Giunia (Junia), has secretly returned to Rome and asks for news of his beloved from his friend Lucio (Lucius) Cinna. Lucio Silla (Lucius Sulla) enlists the aid of his sister Celia in gaining Giunia`s hand for himself, but Giunia hates him as the enemy of her father, the murdered Gaius Marius: Silla is torn but decides for anger and revenge. Cecilio, on Cinna`s advice, has gone to wait for Giunia by Marius` tomb, where she goes every day to weep; they meet and embrace in joyous reconciliation.

In Act 2, Aufidio (Aufidius) tells Silla that he should declare Giunia his wife in public, and Silla and Celia decide that drastic action is needed: he will give Celia to her beloved Cinna if she aids his suit. Cecilio decides to kill Silla but is restrained by Cinna, who urges instead a conspiracy whereby Giunia should marry the tyrant but kill him on her wedding night. She refuses so violent an act but asks Cinna to protect Cecilio in fear of his safety. Silla once again woos Giunia; she again scorns him and is left in despair with Cecilio, who decides that he himself must murder Silla. Celia urges Giunia to accept Silla`s hand but she again refuses: she would rather die. On the Capitol, Silla is fêted by the Roman people and proclaims Giunia his wife; she would kill herself but is prevented by Cecilio, who draws his sword on Silla and is put in chains. The two lovers are consoled by thoughts of a shared death, while Silla is enraged by their constancy.

In Act 3, Cinna promises to marry Celia if she can change Silla`s mind, and reassures Cecilio. Giunia takes a sad farewell of her beloved, promising to join him in death. Cecilio is brought before the Senate and, to everyone`s surprise, Silla pardons both him and Cinna, offering them their respective brides. He renounces public life and is praised for his magnanimity, while the lovers rejoice in their freedom.

Mozart had come a long way since Mitridate, re di Ponto; he had also developed his technique by way of an important group of Symphonies and string quartets. Although Lucio Silla is in the grand opera seria mould (and of a similar size to Mitridate), there is a new formal fluidity that is matched on the smaller scale by a more flexible melodic and harmonic style. Mozart may have been frustrated by the problems over the singers: the first Silla, Bassano Morgano, was a last-minute replacement and so did not receive music to do the character justice. But Mozart had the famous soprano castrato Venanzio Rauzzini as Cecilio (he also wrote `Exsultate, jubilate`, K165, for him at the same time) and as Giunia the soprano prima donna Anna De Amicis. Leopold Mozart noted (28 November 1772) that Rauzzini sang his first aria `Il tenero momento` (Act 1 scene 2; No. 2) `like an angel`; the initial long note showed his messa di voce at its best. He said nothing about the first Cinna, the female soprano Felicità Suardi, although she must have had a fine voice to take on this difficult role. But he was particularly pleased at Anna de Amicis`s favourable response to her arias, especially the phenomenally virtuosic `Ah se il crudel periglio` (Act 2, scene 5; No. 11) with its `passages which are unusual, quite unique and extremely difficult and which she sings amazingly well` (12 December 1772). These and other arias in the opera are typical showpiece numbers in the expanded da-capo format also found in Mitridate: Cinna`s first aria, `Vieni ov`amor t`invita` (Act 1, scene 1; No. 1) has a long opening ritornello, four full statements of the first stanza of the text, one of the second, and a full da-capo (minus the opening ritornello), with the result that the first stanza is heard eight times in all. However, there are alternatives. As in Mitridate, two-tempo arias provide emotional contrast, but Mozart also starts to use more compressed structures. Cecilio`s delightful `Pupille amate` (Act 3, scene 4; No. 21) sets a two-stanza text in a simple ternary form with a hint of rondo. Silla`s `D`ogni pietà mi spoglio` (Act 2, scene 8; No. 13) is a typical `indecision` aria, where Silla veers between fury at Giunia`s intransigence and the love he feels for her. Unusually, the text is not stanzaic and it changes meter: Mozart responds with a through-composed setting (and with no opening ritornello), including a brief passage of recitative as Silla questions his motives.

Such deviations from the norm may be because the librettist De Gamerra was becoming interested in more fluid structures on the model of the `reform` operas of Traetta and Jommelli. That, in turn, may explain the increasing emphasis on accompanied (rather than just secco) recitatives: there are eight in Lucio Silla (not counting the scene-complex at the end of Act 1 discussed below) compared with six in Mitridate, and five are in the intense Act 2. Both Cecilio and Giunia in particular are given ample chance to exploit the expressive possibilities of the medium. In Act 2, scene 10, Giunia is left alone on stage fearing for her future. Her powerful soliloquy is set as an accompanied recitative that ranges widely in terms of gesture and tonality, leading to an aria, `Parto, m`affretto` (No. 16)—again irregularly structured in mixed meters—combining resolve with emotional confusion that is once more, in effect, through composed.

These strategies soften the boundaries between recitative and aria, and also loosen the formal constraints of aria, to produce a more `natural` and continuous dramatic flow, in so far as that is possible within the constraints of opera seria: Idomeneo is not far around the corner. Mozart also explores the possibilities of ensemble writing: the trio for Silla, Cecilio and Giunia at the end of Act 2, `Quell`orgoglioso sdegno` (No. 18), pits the tyrant against the lovers by way of contrasted melodic ideas in a single musical framework in ways that were to become typical of Mozart`s later ensembles. And thanks to his librettist, he was also able to combine accompanied recitative, aria and ensemble to powerful effect. In Act 1 scene 7, Cecilio meets Giunia in the mausoleum containing her father`s remains: such tomb (so-called `ombra`) scenes were conventional in opera seria of the period, and there may be hint of Gluck here. Silla`s aria ending scene 6 is followed by a nine-bar instrumental interlude (presumably covering the set change) with almost Don Giovanni-like chromaticism introducing an accompanied recitative in A minor (Cecilio`s `Morte, morte fatal, della tua mano`). Giunia enters with her companions, and the chorus (in E flat major; shades of Die Zauberflöte) frames an intense arioso passage for Giunia (`O del padre ombra diletta` in G minor; Pamina`s key) as she laments the death of her father. The scene continues in accompanied recitative, with appropriate musical gestures for Cecilio`s sudden appearance to Giunia`s great surprise, leading meltingly into the duet `D`Elisio in sen m`attendi` (No. 7 in A major) moving from Andante to Molto Allegro as the lovers are united in harmonious parallel thirds. Mitridate also included a love-duet in A major (always the most seductive of keys) at the end of Act 2, but the one in Lucio Silla is far more intense, confirming what was to become a topos in the later operas, whether as parody (Don Giovanni and Zerlina`s `Là ci darem la mano`) or in deadly earnest (Fiordiligi and Ferrando`s `Fra gli amplessi in pochi istanti` in Così fan tutte). It is not entirely idle to suggest that Lucio Silla somehow stayed in Mozart`s memory. As with Mitridate, he dropped the opera once it had served its purpose: it was not revived until 1929 (in Prague). But he remained fond of its music, particularly the arias for Giunia: Aloysia Lange (then Weber) with whom Mozart was in love, sang `Ah se il crudel periglio` (No. 11) `most excellently` and `Parto, m`affretto` (No. 16) in Mannheim in early 1778 (see letters of 17 January, 7, 14 and 19 February 1778); Leopold sent three other arias from the opera to Mannheim at the same time; and `Parto, m`affretto` was performed in a concert in Vienna in March 1783. Mozart was also very curious to see J. C. Bach`s setting of the revised libretto (Mannheim, 1775). He must have known that his own Lucio Silla was the best work of his yet to reach the stage, bearing all the hallmarks of an operatic composer in full maturity.

C. Gianturco, Mozart`s Early Operas (London, 1981). M. Feldman, `Staging the Virtuoso: Ritornello Procedure in Mozart, from Aria to Concerto`, in Mozart`s Piano Concertos: Text, Context, Interpretation, ed. N. Zaslaw (Ann Arbor, 1996), 149-86. D. Heartz, Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School 1740-1780 (New York, 1995). W. Mann, Mozart`s Operas (London, 1977).

from The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia ed. Cliff Eisen and Simon P.Keefe Cambridge University Press, 2006 (courtesy of Cambridge Un. Press)

Please use the following reference when citing this website:
Eisen, Cliff et al. In Mozart's Words, 'Lucio Silla K.135' <http://letters.mozartways.com>. Version 1.0, published by HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.
In Mozart's Words. Version 1.0, published by HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.