Count Hieronymus Joseph Franz de Paula Graf Colloredo von Wallsee und Melz, by the grace of God both spiritual and temporal ruler of the city of Salzburg, had ambitious plans for his new city. Although an unpopular choice with other church officials, as his election on the 13th ballot would indicate, Colloredo had no intention of currying favour with the common people either. His intentions were loftier. He wanted reform.
Reform, in any age, means not worrying over the popularity of your policies, and a certain optimism that you’ll be appreciated for them later. For the archbishop, a well-educated eighteenth-century modernizer and would-be statesman, this also meant embracing the ideals of the new Enlightenment. The religious superstition that still clung to Catholicism after a millenium was to be officially suppressed. No more pilgrimages, and worshipping relics was frowned upon. There were to be no more religious processions through the streets, no kitschy decorations hung in churches and no lengthy orchestral musical interludes during the Mass. Colloredo’s new modern church was to shed medieval superstition for the new ideals of reason and science – and if this meant he could save himself a bit of work, and a bit of money, along the way, then so much the better.
For the 16-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Colloredo’s reform, especially the part that involved budget cuts, was an unmitigated disaster. As the prince-archbishop’s new concertmaster, less music in church (call it cuts to arts funding) meant fewer commissions, and therefore less money, for composers like him. Furthermore, as what we might today refer to as an emerging artist, there was less opportunity for the young Mozart to distinguish himself by writing large-scale works that could get him a better appointment in the future. So faced with fewer opportunities Mozart did what artists typically do – he left to find work elsewhere. In this case, Mozart left for Milan to write an opera.
The result of Mozart’s journey to Milan was Lucio Silla, an opera seria based on the story of Julius Caesar’s predecessor (and Rome’s first dictator) Lucius Sulla. As a career move, the idea of putting on an opera in Milan circa 1772 seemed like a bit of a sure thing. This was the third opera the teenage wunderkind would be writing for the Milanese stage and he would be working with a capable librettist, the Teatro Ducale’s new appointment, Giovanni di Gamerra. Mozart also had a few months to devote to the project, more than enough time for a hyper-prolific composer who had already written some 25 symphonies, seven operas, and four piano concertos. Success, it would seem, was guaranteed.
Sadly, Lucio Silla didn’t go over quite as Mozart planned, and it wasn’t his fault, either. The lead tenor fell ill and his replacement couldn’t handle the part, so many of the best arias in the opera had to be rewritten or cut out entirely. The other singers were late arriving in the city and had to begin rehearsing behind schedule. Not only did they bomb in the premiere, but the opera was considerably longer in performance than during rehearsal – imagine, if you will, a poorly sung opera that seems to never end, and you’ll probably have some idea of how the premiere went. Lucio Silla would be the last opera written by Mozart for an Italian audience, and after a catastrophic run the chastened young composer crawled back to Salzburg and the archbishop, a failure at 16.
I think it’s safe to say that Opera Atelier’s Canadian premiere of Lucio Silla will raise the admittedly low bar set by its initial premiere. But they will likely do a lot better than that! Atelier’s artistic directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg played a significant role in the show’s triumphant return to Milan at La Scala last year, under the baton of Marc Minkowski, and an even more extensive role in the triumphant production of the opera in Salzburg two years prior to that (including the participation of the Atelier Ballet in the Salzburg run). Now they get to bring the opera, in their very own production, to Toronto audiences from April 7 to 16 at the Elgin Theatre, including the stars of of the Salzburg and La Scala runs (Kresimir Spicer and Inga Kalna). Unlike Mozart’s Milanese collaborators, Opera Atelier never fails to put on a great show, and this is a Canadian premiere that is long overdue! If you see one concert this month, make it this one.
The Orlando Consort, with over 25 recordings to their name, doesn’t come to town very often (although as a soloist their tenor, Charles Daniels, is well known to Tafelmusik audiences, and a welcome guest), but any chance to hear them live is certainly welcome. The medieval-themed a cappella vocal group is known for their imaginative concert programming as well as some exceptional singing. Their latest project is certainly as imaginative as choral concerts get; they’ve devised a program of music known to have been extant in France during the lifetime of Joan of Arc and used it to score a compilation soundtrack to the 1928 silent film classic La passion de Jeanne d’Arc, by Carl Theodor Dreyer.
As either a work of scholarship or of film scoring, this would have been a formidable workload. The fact that the Consort has accomplished both demonstrates incredible artistic vision and dedication, and I have no doubt the veteran singers will be able to pull it off splendidly. You can catch this at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, April 3 at 3pm.
Zelenka at Tafelmusik: One composer who’s been getting some well-deserved attention in recent years is the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. Since his rediscovery by fellow Czech composer Bedřich Smetana in the mid-19th century and the publication of a catalogue running to nearly 200 works, early music audiences have had more and more chances to hear him over the last few decades. Indeed, Tafelmusik audiences should already be familiar with the composer – the group performed his concert overture, Hippocondrie, earlier this concert season, and an excerpt from one of his sonatas made it on to their fantastic Galileo Project.
A double bassist, kapellmeister and avid contrapuntalist, Zelenka had the good fortune to work in the epic Dresden court of Augustus the Strong, where he wrote sacred works for choir and orchestra. Zelenka was also well-connected. Besides working with the great violinist, Johann Georg Pisendel, he was also a personal friend of Bach and was much admired by both composers. This month, Tafelmusik honors both Bach and Zelenka as composers of sacred music with a concert of Zelenka’s Missa Omnium Sanctorum and Bach’s cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten at their home base at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, April 28 through 30 and May 1.
Bland by name only! A good trumpet player is hard to find, and an excellent one harder still. It’s again still rarer to find a great player of the baroque trumpet, since the instrument is considerably harder to play than its modern counterpart (smaller embouchure, no valves) and this may explain why Justin Bland is so darn busy and why he plays with, well, basically everyone. The Copenhagen-based musician will be visiting Toronto to play with Scaramella in a concert dedicated to music for baroque trumpet, and featuring the music of Bach, Melani, Merula and Purcell at Victoria College Chapel on April 16. The up-and-coming virtuoso will be playing with Scaramella artistic director Joëlle Morton on violone, the talented young soprano Dawn Bailey and local hotshot violinists Michelle Odorico and Rezan Onen-Lapointe, which means that this concert will feature a considerable amount of talent as well as youthful exuberance. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should also say that the concert also features this columnist on harpsichord, whose talent and/or exuberance you will have to judge for yourselves.)
David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.