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Wolfgang A. Mozart Lucio Silla

Opera seria in three acts, K. 135
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Libretto by Giovanni de Gamerra (1742–1803)

With German and English surtitles

Co-production with the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation,
in cooperation with Musikfest Bremen
Revival of the 2013 Salzburg Mozart Week production

Duration of the opera approx. 3 hours and 40 minutes.


  • 27 July 2013, 18:00


  • 30 July 2013, 19:00
  • 02 August 2013, 15:00
  • 04 August 2013, 13:00

Print programme (PDF)


Marc Minkowski, Conductor
Marshall Pynkoski, Director
Antoine Fontaine, Sets and Costumes
Jeannette Zingg, Choreography
Hervé Gary, Lighting
Alois Glaßner, Chorus Master


Wolfgang Amadé Mozart was no longer an unknown composer to the Milanese public when he and his father Leopold set out on their third journey to Italy in October 1772. For the governor general of Lombardy he had already written two operas which had been successfully premiered: in December 1770 the dramma per musica Mitridate, and in the following year, as Leopold put it, Mozart had the “immortal honour” of composing his Ascanio in Alba for the wedding of Empress Maria Theresa’s son Archduke Ferdinand to Princess Maria Beatrice d’Este. Nevertheless, it could not be taken for granted that Mozart, by now sixteen years old, would be commissioned to compose a work for the following carnival season. The Regio Ducal Teatro was one of the leading opera houses at the time and since his first commission for Milan a younger generation had taken over. The opera house’s new librettist, Giovanni de Gamerra, twenty-nine years old, allowed himself certain liberties as regards the type of libretto which until then had been exclusively dominated by Metastasio. For instance Gamerra broke with the previously strictly regulated sequence in the performance hierarchy. In particular placing the duet between the prima donna and the primo uomo at the end of the first act instead of at the end of the second act, as was customary, testifies to Gamerra’s modern approach, which Mozart probably greatly appreciated.

For Lucio Silla, their first joint work on an opera, they portrayed one of the most contradictory figures in history, the most detested consul of the late Roman republic – Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138–78 B.C.). Plutarch tells us that “when he was still young and disregarded, he was always in the company of actors and buffoons, and shared their indulgence, and when he had become master of everything, he used to gather the most impudent boys from the theatre around him, drinking and jesting with them so that for his great age he led a highly unseemly life. Apart from the fact that he disgraced the dignity of his office, he neglected much urgent business. One of the bad effects of his letting himself go was also his inclination for love affairs and pleasures of every kind which even when he was older did not subside … After he had killed countless people and brought about a thoroughgoing revolution and constitutional change in the state, he resigned from office, restored the right of the people to organise elections of consuls without himself influencing them. He went around the Forum like a private person and presented himself in person to everyone who might have wanted to take revenge against him.” Gamerra and Mozart’s liberal treatment of the historical facts shows that they had no interest in authenticity. Even in this early work emphasis is given to psychological aspects of the protagonists; the minimal but constant changes in what often appear to be extreme repetitions of one and the same text within an aria are the traces that Mozart provides to exploring the character. One of the mysteries of this work of a youthful genius is the question as to how a sixteen-year-old was able to succeed in portraying and capturing the title role’s inner turmoil, torn between his political career which characterised him, and private longings in his futile struggle to gain Giunia’s love.
Lucio Silla marks the fascinating point at which the child prodigy Mozart became a mature composer. In this production Marc Minkowski will conduct “his” orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble; the opera is staged by Marshall Pynkoski, director of the Opera Atelier, Toronto, an artist who has worked previously in dance and whom Marc Minkowski has held in high regard for a long time. As in the musical interpretation, the staging aims to merge old and new and create a particular symbiosis. The production, in a new reading for Salzburg, will appear in the guise of Mozart’s time, yet without eschewing a contemporary, dynamic view of the work. The stage sets are designed by Antoine Fontaine, who has designed films such as Vatel with Gérard Depardieu or Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola. The title role is sung by Rolando Villazón.
Despite the apparent success of Lucio Silla – “Every day arias are repeated and after the first series it is now performed daily, and from day to day it gets more and more applause” (Leopold Mozart to his wife, Milan, 1773) – it was the last opera commission that Mozart received from Italy, land of his opera ambitions. His highly promising career was initially thwarted and he soon began to complain bitterly. He wrote to his father that he had, “an unspeakable desire to compose an opera again … I only need to hear about an opera, I only need to be in the theatre and hear voices and I become quite beside myself.”
In his third opera for Milan, like the persons in the action, Mozart strived to achieve individual self-realisation, raising latent violations of the rules to the actual subject matter and exploiting the possibilities of the established system in every direction. Did he perhaps go too far?

Ronny Dietrich
Translated by Elizabeth Mortimer