LA CLEMENZA DI TITO: MOZART.
Opus Arte DVD
This is one of the oddest-looking productions of La clemenza di Tito in recent memory. The first Glyndebourne staging of Mozart's final opera in 20 years is set in modern times and makes considerable use of film projections. It splits the stage horizontally for two separate areas of action. As director Claus Guth explains in a bonus feature, the office-like platform on top represents man-made elements--power, cleanliness and order--while the bottom-level shows a calming outdoor scene with reeds, grasses and a swamp-like environment.
This bottom portion serves as the setting for a sepia film of two children playing, which is seen faintly during the overture. The children are Tito and his friend Sesto in happier times. As Guth explains, Tito has a dream of leaving his ordered world to return to the joy of his childhood, especially his friendship with Sesto. Singers regularly go up and down a stairway with the action and lighting moving back and forth, sometimes focusing on both levels.
Interesting? Maybe. But it's a bit of a nightmare to set up and strike between performances. Designer Christian Schmidt notes that the bottom portion involves placing and moving 700 reeds, which takes 20 stagehands half an hour each time. In one scene, the entire chorus stands atop the upper platform (several tons of people), which might not seem entirely safe, but we are assured that this rolling device is equipped with multiple wheels in order to distribute the weight evenly. These are not things that spoil our enjoyment on DVD, of course.
The standout among the very strong cast, marked by superb acting all round, is English mezzo Anna Stephany in the trouser role of Sesto. She delivers her stirring Act I aria "Parto, ma tu, ben mio" with great gusto and impeccably agile and crystal-clear runs as her character expresses determination to carry out the assassination of Tito. Equally impressive is her Act II rondo "Deh per questo istante solo," in which Sesto faces the Emperor and admits his guilt.
American tenor Richard Croft, as Tito, beautifully captures the lonely lot of an absolute ruler, his inner struggle naturally expressed in the Act II aria "Se all'impero, amici Dei," as he tears up Sesto's death warrant. Canadian mezzosoprano Michele Losier and American soprano Joelle Harvey are totally believable as the young lovers Annio (another trouser role) and Servilia. They sound gorgeous in their Act I duet "Ah perdona al primo affetto," renewing their vows after the shocking news that Tito plans to take Servilia as his wife. Losier is equally impressive in her lyrical Act II aria "Torno di Tito a lato."
British mezzo Alice Coote (Vitellia) shows off her big voice to great effect but she does have difficulty with the role's high tessitura and her voice lacks flexibility in the quick runs. Her best showing comes in Vitellia's lengthy rondo "Non piu di fiori vaghe catene," as she comes to the realization that she must confess to having hatched the assassination attempt. It's a lovely performance, with a growling lower register and penetrating fortes at the top.
Conductor Robin Ticciati presides effectively over the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which serves up a nice transparent sound, and the chorus makes a welcome contribution. Overall, I found the pacing rather dull, with the strange practice of pregnant silent bits (obviously intentional, to suggest thoughtful or awkward conversations) interpolated into some recitatives. Nevertheless, there is some very fine singing here.--DLD reviews by Rick MacMillan