Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
La Clemenza di Tito (1791)
Tito - Michael Schade (tenor)
Sesto - Vesselina Kassarova (mezzo)
Vitellia - Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)
Annio - Elina Garanča (mezzo)
Servilia - Barbara Bonney (soprano)
Publio - Luca Pisaroni (bass)
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Production by Martin Kušej
rec. live, Felsenreitschule, Salzburg Festival 2003
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107181 DVD [75:00 + 86:00]
This Salzburg Tito is a very mixed bag, but happily the good is very good. The production uses the vast spaces of the Felsenreitschule in a way that almost mirrors the arcades which have been dug out of the original rock. The set consists of a vast open series of rooms. To call it a doll’s-house effect is to cheapen it, but that’s the closest idea. The characters move around the various rooms and different scenes are enacted in each, the largest and most important being the central one on the ground floor. This is both a blessing and a curse, though: it allows the action to unfold in distinct spaces for each scene, but a TV screen doesn’t give the freedom of the eye that the original audience would have had and so the sense of the intimate occurring within a vast scale is almost always lost. The best scenes are the finales of both acts which require a good deal of action taking place in various places at once, however the more intimate scenes are sometimes lost by characters interacting with each other between two different rooms. Martin Kušej is good at directing his actors and the interaction between the characters is nearly always interesting to watch, even though there are various occasions when they seem to be acting bizarrely to no obvious purpose. Most puzzling is his treatment of Tito himself who, for most of the opera, acts with the convulsions of a lunatic, suggesting the madness of Nero rather than the godly clemency of Titus. The crowd scenes also involve extraneous props and actions which were lost on me.
Happily, however, the musical values are what really make this set work. Harnoncourt conducts without the contrary wilfulness that can sometimes mar his performances - and which get somewhat in the way of his Zurich recording of Tito on Teldec. Here he is content to wallow in his own way but he never becomes self-indulgent and he is helped by knock-out-fantastic orchestral playing from the Vienna Philharmonic. Their always excellent musicianship sounds fantastic in this acoustic and the solo clarinet in Parto, parto is perhaps the finest I have ever heard - you can forgive the occasional hootiness of the basset-horn in Non piu di fiori. The team work together most brilliantly in the finale to Act 1, paced like a psychological thriller and played with hair-raising dramatic instincts.
Furthermore, Harnoncourt’s singers are outstanding. Michael Schade’s Tito is good: vulnerable and sensitive rather than noble and heroic. However, the real standout is Dorothea Röschmann’s Vitellia which is quite the finest assumption of this role I have heard. She treads the line between ice-cold manipulator and sexy vamp to perfection, using her voice to colour every phrase with outstanding beauty. She shows her iron-clad control over Sesto in the opening scene but gives way to abject panic by the end of the act. Furthermore she creates a sound of heart-stopping beauty in her Act 2 Rondo - it’s just a shame that she is given such daft things to do while she sings it! Vesselina Kassarova’s is not a voice I love: too often, for me, she sounds forced and recently she has taken to swallowing her notes in coloratura in a way that sounds like ghastly yodelling. With these prejudices I was not expecting to like her here, but happily my expectations were (mostly) confounded. In fact she sings with a surprising degree of beauty throughout - her Act 2 Rondo is outstanding - but it is her characterisation of Sesto that works best, vulnerable and damaged, always conflicted and never certain of what to do. The colour of her voice works well for the male role too, as does the excellent Elina Garanča as Annio, boyish and energetic as well as singing beautifully. The Act 1 duet with Servilia is wonderful, but Barbara Bonney was, frankly too old to be singing this role: she both looks and sounds too mature. It is all but impossible to turn Publio into a genuinely sympathetic character, but Luca Pisaroni makes a better stab at it than many others I’ve seen.
For me, the most obvious competition for this opera on DVD is Jonathan Miller’s production from Zurich starring Jonas Kaufmann, Eva Mei and, again, Vesselina Kassarova, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst on EMI. Singer-for-singer Harnoncourt's version is finer, but the messy staging means it doesn’t hold together as well. Miller’s simpler, more rigorous production works better and he has a great cast who sing with commitment and often great beauty. The EMI is also significantly cheaper on one mid-price DVD: for an opera of this length I seriously question Arthaus’s decision to split it over two DVDs, especially when there are no extras.
A very mixed bag, but happily the good is very good.