First, a bit more background on opera seria from NPR’s Tom Huizenga:
As opera left its toddler years behind, it grew more restrictive and extravagant at the same time. Around 1700, a new style called opera seria began to dominate. It was, as the name implies, “serious opera,” and was driven by two main forces: formulaic librettos and flamboyant singers.
I love this description of opera seria – restrictive and extravagant – formulaic and flamboyant.
So what does this mean? Generally speaking – no chorus, no complicated plotlines, no large casts, simple staging and costumes. And vocal fireworks, lots of vocal fireworks – ornamentation, coloratura, virtuosic displays of technique and embellishment like you read about. Picture an exotic peacock alone on a bare stage, shaking out its extravagant tail for all to marvel at.
Gluck’s Ezio, written in 1750, is pure, unadulterated opera seria. There are only six cast members (four main characters) and no chorus. Lots of wonderful, virtuosic arias and just two ensemble numbers – a trio and the finale, in which all cast members sing together once all is forgotten and forgiven.
22 years later, a 16 year old Mozart composed Lucio Silla in 1772. Although this operatic style was past its heyday, it makes sense that a young composer would practice his craft on the established genre of the time. (He would go on to write two more, better known, opera serias – Idomeneo in 1781 and La Clemenza di Tito in 1791). And Lucio Silla fits the basic mold of opera seria: like Ezio, the cast numbers six (here with five main characters). And few ensemble numbers – one duet, one trio and the finale for the entire cast and chorus. Remember The Marriage of Figaro with its marvelous trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, and on and on that drive the story? That’s a good 24 years down the road. But it does have a chorus that makes three brief appearances. And I think you’ll agree, it sounds like Mozart, especially with an orchestra that includes a more robust wind/brass section than utilized by Gluck in 1750 (not to mention tympani! Woo Hoo!).
So this coming June, we invite you to experience opera seria with a cast of outstanding artists who have a special passion for this repertoire. Extravagance abounds! And yes, togas, lots of togas.
Stay tuned for more about our marvelous cast.