16 – Lucio Silla director Harry Silverstein on the youthful flowering of Mozart’s genius

I cannot remember exactly what I was doing at age 16, but I am quite certain it was not writing brilliant Italian opera. In thinking about Lucio Silla we must keep in mind the fact that Mozart was just a teenager when he penned this opera. His genius is evident; his ability to craft stunning musical figures and capture detailed characters shines already. Lacking the experience that comes with age, has not quite achieved the stunning depth of characterisation and human understanding he does in his maturity, the operas with Da Ponte for example. Yet he shows a wonderful ability to find the truth and humanity of these charterers in his storytelling. It is the discovery of the humanity of Silla that is the core of this story, his transformation from unenlightened despot to the generous leader and gentle man that interests Mozart and captivates us.

Mozart continues to be interested in redemption and enlightenment throughout his career. Although he is not yet a member of the Freemasons, you may feel the sensibilities that ultimately bring him to their brotherhood. Lucio Silla, much like La clemenza di Tito, Die Zauberflöte, and Idomeneo investigate the actions and relationships between powerful people that ultimately lead to selflessness, generosity, and humility. In the case of Silla, a leader has waged a brutal civil war, and is using repression to control his people, all the while engaging his power to pursue his personal lust. He accepts bad advice and flattery, employs deception of individuals as well as the public to solidify his position and ensure his wishes are followed. (Oh, how nothing is new under the sun.) Here, however, our protagonist experiences enlightenment. Not only does Silla have this journey, each of the principal characters has an equivalent one and a revelation experience at the end of the opera.

Every good story offers us the opportunity to share experiences with characters that we recognise, characters that we can accept, and characters that have thoughts and perform actions that could be our own. They on the stage, we in the audience, take this journey together; it is how storytelling does its work. As artists of interpretation the challenge is to create Silla and the story around him in a way that explains his original actions, allows the possibility for change and then follows his journey to redemption and understanding. Much more than we could have done at 16; we can, however, aspire to achieve it now at a certain age.