Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday At the Opera - "La Clemenza di Tito" - Mozart on Opera Platform

     Mozart completed "La Clemenza di Tito" only two months before his untimely death.  The opera was a commission for the coronation of the new emperor Leopold II and so focuses on the aspect of mercy as being a central characteristic for an enlightened monarch.  Thus the libretto can be a bit heavy handed and at times a little ponderous.  It is interesting to note that the libretto which was set by Mozart is an adaption of a libretto which had been around for a while and had actually been set by several composers with more or less success - actually much less success than Mozart as his is the only setting of this libretto that is regularly performed.  However, there is even a setting by Gluck and I own a recording of this and have listened to much of it and studied it a bit.  I actually enjoy the music quite a lot, but it is very different than Mozart. For one thing it contains far fewer ensembles and is also much longer.  But I digress...

     Opera Platform has made available a 2013 performance from La Monnaie.  The performance is conducted by Ludovic Morlot and features the following cast: Kurt Streit as Tito Vespasiano; Véronique Gens as Vitellia; Simona Saturová as Servillia; Anna Bonitatibus as Sesto; Anna Grevelius as Annio and Alex Esposito as Publio.  The cast is excellent, especially the women. Véronique Gens is stunning as Vitellia, especially her final aria is beautifully and powerfully perfomed.  Anna Bonitatibus is equally stunning as Sesto and she executes both of her arias brilliantly.  I should add that both the clarinet and basset horn solos are beautifully played and it is too bad there is no mention of those artists from the orchestra.  The rest of the cast is quite good, though I felt that Kurt Streit had his difficulties especially in his long act 2 aria.  But musically this performance is worth watching.

     The production by Ivo van Hove sets the action is a hotel and updates the action to present day.  At first I found the setting tiresome, but as the performance progressed it grew on me.  The production brought out the focus on the interpersonal relationships among the cast.  Probably more so than in a traditional production the almost "soap opera" plot of act 1 is emphasized by the close intimate setting but as the conspiracy takes off and act 2's judgment proceeds we see the imposition of the outside world - everything is photographed and video-taped and live streamed, there are always people milling around both functionaries, crime scene investigators and journalists.  Tito can simply not escape from the scrutiny of the outside world.  But yet he chooses the hard path - the path of clemency and mercy (this is a spoiler, but it is in the title so it shouldn't be a surprise!)  There was a reality show/"soap opera" quality to the production that I felt actually worked pretty well and a political statement about the pressures of leadership also.  It really was an interesting production.  But you have to stay with it, it took me most of act 1 to catch on. I think it is worth watching, especially if you have seen the opera before.  If you like your Roman emperors in togas then you should probably pass on this.

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