1280x680_Oper_Konzertant_1516 © beyond/Mara Burmester


In his second opera seria, Lucio Silla, the 16-year-old Mozart deals with one of the most bloodthirsty periods of Ancient Rome: Cornelius Lucius Sulla (138-78 B.C.) had, as a dictator, ordered the massacre of around 1,500 opposition nobles. In his opera, however, Mozart has Silla (Sulla) show clemency to his adversary Cecilio, whom he pardons. The commission for the opera came from the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan – which had also commissioned Mitridate from Mozart two years earlier – and was intended for the 1772/73 carnival season. However, the composition was beset by several difficulties: the librettist Giovanni da Gamerra had sent his libretto to his esteemed fellow poet Metastasio in Vienna for revision, which meant that Mozart had to rework all the recitatives he had already written. In addition, some of the singers arrived in Milan late which delayed the setting of the arias. The premiere on 26 December 1772 was only a moderate success and after a run of 26 performances the work disappeared into obscurity for one and a half centuries. It was not until the late 20th century that the qualities of this opera began to be appreciated; conventional as it may be, Mozart’s attempt to increase the drama especially at the close of each act and distil the arias into larger units by means of recitatives with orchestral accompaniment and the use of choruses is impressive.