Cher Public

The lady or the Tiber

On his 86th birthday last month, the great Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt announced his retirement. To honor the maestro, “Trove Thursday” presents a Harnoncourt specialty, Mozart’s early Lucio Silla starring Edita Gruberova, Ann Murray, Jill Gomez, Rachel Yakar and Philip Langridge.  

Harnoncourt made a fine recording in 1989 of Silla with the very young Cecilia Bartoli, but this live performance may be even better—its passionate cast excelling under his dynamic conducting. To me, Gruberova always sounds all wrong in the Italian bel canto roles she covets, but the fiendishly florid role of Giunia is instead surely one of her best portrayals. Rather than the CD’s effortful, Teutonic Peter Schreier, this version profits from a commanding Langridge in the title role. Murray, his wife, always struck me more as a “lazy” soprano than as a mezzo, so Cecilio’s high-lying music suits her.

Mozart: Lucio Silla
Theater an der Wien, Vienna
18 May 1981

Giunia: Edita Gruberova
Celia: Rachel Yakar
Cecilio: Ann Murray
Lucio: Cinna Jill Gomez
Lucio Silla: Philip Langridge
Aufidio: Peter Straka

Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Soon “Trove Thursday” will present another version of this opera, one by J.C. Bach “The London Bach,” written in 1776, four years after Mozart’s.

Lucio Silla, Haydn’s oratorio Die Jahreszeiten conducted by James Levine and all previous “Trove Thursday” offerings are available for download from iTunes or via any RSS reader.


  • PCally

    Had no idea harnoncourt was that old lol. Makes me a little less about him retiring. I’ve always been a fan and gruberova (who I’m not always fond of) is terrific here.

    • Bill

      saw Lucio Silla at the Wiener Staatsoper about
      a decade later and Edita Gruberova was phenomenal as Giunia. Arnold Oestmann was the conductor and the cast included Thomas Moser, Ann Murray, Yvonne Kenny
      and Marlin Hartelius/Eva Lind. Ponnelle production. After 7 performances the opera was never revived at the Staatsoper.

      • PCally

        I also have to add that Murray really had a lovely voice in the early nineteen eighties. Even the top notes sound fine. How was it she sounded so squally a mere few years later?

        • Bill

          PCally -- I saw Ann Murray a number of times in
          Vienna, mostly as the Komponist in Ariadne with Benackova and Gruberova and felt she was the weak link among two
          sublime performances. (but then mostly I prefer a soprano Komponist or if it has to be a Mezzo one with an easy and lovely top) As a matter of fact I was never that impressed with Murray’s voice but never saw her in
          concert. That said Murray did sing 9 roles in Vienna
          between 1988 and 1996 her last Komponist in 1996 being the same day as Benackova’s last Ariadne in Vienna. Murray was not at all impressive vocally as the Komponist that day though she acted the role well enough -- pity. Her voice simply could not soar over the orchestra when needed.

          • PCally

            It’s just odd because I first heard her on the Levine cosi from 1989. The timbre is fine but the top is squally. Same can be said of all her other recordings. In this Lucio Silla and the 1983 cosi from Salzburg it’s like a different voice entirely. Much more attractive and with virtually no issues up top. I just think it’s strange that the top went so quickly. She sounds lovely on those recordings.

            • armerjacquino

              She was always more of a kunstdiva than a stimmdiva, which is unusual in her rep. There have been many greater voices, but some of my most exciting live memories are of Murray performances- the explosive Xerxes and the incredibly intense Octavian in particular.

            • armerjacquino

              She’s terrific in her mid 80s Met CLEMENZA Sesto too- with much less of the squall that developed over time.

            • PCally

              Armer, live I’ve only ever seen her as Marcellina, most recently at the opening night Figaro at ROH. She’s absolutely terrific dramatically but even by the standards of that role she was problematic, more speaking than actual singing. But I found her completely engaging. I like her Xerxes video and I’m partial to her Sesto for Harnoncourt but that may have to do with the sentiment towards Popp as Vitellia and Harnoncourt stunning rendition of the score.

  • dexter

    I heard Murray quite a lot and always thought that the top of the voice got shrill under any pressure. Even in Handel, so Xerxes had some dubious moments. In song recital fewer issues than in opera, as I guess she could pick her keys.

  • Tamerlano

    Gruberova is breathtaking here.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Startling to hear this pitched higher than the original-instruments pitch of the Teldec recording.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Thank you, La Cieca and Christopher, for this presentation!

  • Marcello

    This was one of 2 guest performances of the Zurich Opera in Vienna. According to the yearbook, they took place on 19 and 21 May.
    On 20 and 22 May there was Idomeneo with Harnoncourt, Hollweg, Palmer, Gale, Schmidt.
    The productions were by Ponnelle.
    The orchestra was not the Concentus Musicus, but the orchestra of the Zurich opera, which may explain the higher pitch.