Mozart was only 16 when he wrote Lucio Silla, but in his exceptional case ‘only’ is hardly the right word. It appears that he also conducted the first performances and this would not have been anything of a surprise to anyone involved or the audiences. Mozart’s early mastery simply dazzles and bemuses us these days, and seems precocious. But his completely magisterial command of all aspects of technique allied with an uncanny perceptive understanding of human psychology and music’s power to suggest frames of mind beyond simple fury, despair or love, defies everyday assumptions of the callowness of any kind of youth. Lucio Silla is a thrillingly virtuosic work, full of brilliance and affecting beauty, rarely performed and even more rarely staged. Glimpses of his later works are here, the flashes of inspiration that place him as primus inter pares in the pantheon of composers who made opera not only into paeans of humanism but also the ultimate theatrical experience. Directing Lucio Silla will be the widely experienced American director Harry Silverstein, and Laurence Cummings will return to conduct following his beautifully realised Tamerlano for us this last summer.
Verdi’s career clearly shows three periods of development and inspiration, described as early, middle and late. As with Beethoven, when Verdi was a younger composer, he composed tightly within forms that were prevalent where he was brought up, studied and was inspired by, forms that Rossini took to their apogee, the famous Bel Canto era. Macbeth belongs to Verdi’s early period. But whilst keeping to the structures and aesthetics of bel canto the composer was beginning to develop innovations in colour through his inspired orchestration and in psychological insight, and breaking down formal aria and cabaletta for greater dramatic effect. Drama was Verdi’s primary interest, exciting visceral theatre his aim. Macbeth follows the well known doom-laden story and elicits from the composer some of his most electric music within a frequently frightening soundscape. For the Festival I have chosen the very first original version of this opera, premiered in Florence in a smallish theatre not unlike the Buxton Opera House. When the opera was performed in Paris, as usual the opera house management and their audiences demanded ballets and much more flamboyance. But the concise original version is more powerfully taut, and less often performed now which is a great shame. Elijah Moshinsky who made his worldwide reputation with his productions of Verdi, especially the earlier works, will direct for us. In their pomp at the ROH Elijah and his revered colleague Edward Downes especially wished to produce this version there, but it never happened. I’m delighted that we can to some extent put the record straight by producing this lesser known version in Buxton, with a wonderful cast and with all the drama writ large in the intimacy of our special opera house. I am looking forward personally to conducting this production enormously, having conducted often many of Verdi’s operas but not Macbeth.
Stephen Barlow, Artistic Director