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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
La Clemenza di Tito, opera seria in two acts (1791) [134.14]
Tito – Richard Croft
Sesto – Anna Stéphany
Vitellia – Alice Coote
Publio – Clive Bayley
Annio – Michèle Losier
Servilia – Joélle Harvey
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Robin Ticciati
Stage director – Claus Guth
Designer – Christian Schmidt
Movement director – Ramses Sigl
Lighting design – Olaf Winter
Projection design – Arian Andiel
Dramaturgy – Ronny Dietrich
Film director – François Roussillon
rec. live, 3 August 2017, Glyndebourne, UK
Video Format/Aspect ratio: 1080i High Definition – 1 BD50 – 16.9
LPCM Stereo 2.0ch, 48kHz/24bit; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch, 48kHz
Regions: All
Subtitles: English, German, French, Korean, Japan
OPUS ARTE OABD7232D Blu-ray [138 mins]

Following an absence of nearly 20 years Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito returned to Glyndebourne in July 2017 with this modern dress production by Claus Guth filmed live the following month. Set in ancient Rome, passion and ambitions clash, and ultimately clemency in this score which was written in tandem with Die Zauberflöte; Mozart’s final works for the stage.

Mozart’s commission to write an opera seria came from the impresario Domenico Guardasoni on behalf of the Estates of Bohemia to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor as King of Bohemia, at Prague. With Caterino Mazzolà’s adaption of the Italian libretto after Pietro Metastasio in hand Mozart ceased work on both Die Zauberflöte and the Requiem and immediately commenced composing La Clemenza di Tito. The première was staged just hours after Leopold’s coronation on 6 September 1791 at Stavovské divadlo (Estates Theatre), Prague. The libretto is loosely based on the life of the Roman Emperor Titus. The commissioning of Clemenza had a political motive as it was intended to give a flattering portrait, an almost virtuous one, of the Emperor Leopold.

In the extra features section of the film the creative team, stage director Claus Guth and designer Christian Schmidt explain that the production works on two elements the first being ‘nature’ and the second the ‘palace world’. The nature element embraces a swamp landscape comprising of reeds, puddles and rocks, requiring seven hundred reeds that take around twenty-five minutes to set out involving up to twenty people. Forming part of the nature aspect is the regular use of mainly black and white video projections of two children playing in fields close to a river, and later on a raft, which all starts during the overture. Over the swamp on a long elevated platform is an open fronted room representing Tito’s Palace yet decked out in very basic style more like a modern office suite. Modern costumes are the order of the day with Schmidt choosing mainly dark colours such as suits with really only the dresses of Vitellia and Servilia providing some degree of colour. Surely Tito would have appeared more distinctive in a military uniform than the dinner suit he wears. All in all, Guth and Schmidt’s production works extremely well with admirable clarity of purpose, definitely holding the interest with the viewing experience remaining in my head for several days. In truth, once one has seen the reeds in the swamp it’s easy to forget just how much work is involved in setting up the stage. Hats off to those responsible for the stunning stage and lighting effects when Rome is burning.

The casting seems to have been undertaken satisfactorily although there have been critical comments made about the age difference between Richard Croft as Tito and his choice of women for his prospective wife. Not that unusual throughout history, a monarch choosing a young wife! Created by soprano castrato Domenico Bedini, Sesto is taken by English born mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany who sang the trouser role the previous year at Opernhaus Zürich. Noticeably comfortable with her acting Stéphany excels as the young nobleman dressed in black with commando boots, bomber jacket over a hoodie who is driven by love and principles, letting his heart rule his head ending up in a tormented state. In a well characterised performance Stéphany may colour her mezzo-soprano with an energetic boyish way yet her results are highly mature. Her attractive, flexible tone and stylish coloratura are demonstrated to splendid effect, notably in the aria Deh, per questo istante solo where Sesto tells Tito that he deserves no pity but implores him to be less severe. An experienced Mozartian, Richard Croft performs with real credit portraying an indecisive, rather confused Roman Emperor Tito who is finding the responsibility of the position lying heavy. Then of course Tito makes a momentous decision to pardon the treasonous conspirator Sesto. American born Croft is in excellent voice with his firm, expressive tenor that exudes sincerity especially in his aria Se all'impero where he displays clemency over revenge. It’s only the coloratura that Croft seems to find a strain.

English soprano Alice Coote takes the role of Vitellia the fag smoking, gin swilling daughter of the ousted emperor. Dressed in a low-cut, dark raspberry dress over a black satin slip with heeled leather boots, Coote a convincing actress accentuates the scheming and self-centered traits of the character who is fuming with anger at being rejected by Tito. Confident and vocally secure Coote projects powerfully throughout whilst remaining steady and in control. Highly engaging is Michèle Losier in the trouser role of Annio, a young patrician wearing a black three piece suit. With lovely smooth delivery and effective slide to her high register the Canadian mezzo-soprano in the aria Torna di Tito a lato requests Sesto to go back and face Tito. Publio, commander of the Praetorian Guard sometimes clad in a three-piece suit, at other times in a dark military uniform with gold button and braid, is expertly played by Clive Bayley. Publio makes a solid and trustworthy protector to Tito. The role of the genial Servilia looking feminine in a light-green dress is well sung by Joélle Harvey. In bright yet smooth voice the American soprano gives a lovely performance of her short aria S'altro che lagrime warning Vitellia that tears alone will not save Sesto. Using period instruments Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Robin Ticciati sustains the energy of the production giving a performance that is quite simply outstanding. Splendidly drilled by chorus master Jeremy Bines the Glyndebourne Chorus excel however the choreographed arm movements become wearing after a time.

Recorded live at Glyndebourne I have no problems at all with the sound quality, which offers the usual choice between stereo or surround. The accompanying booklet contains an interview with stage director Claus Guth, an informative essay titled ‘Between two worlds’ by Mozart specialist Emanuele Senici and a synopsis. Disappointingly and most annoying there is no track listing of the arias and choruses, and the name of the character singing, although this information is partially available on screen without listing the character. The extra video features which contain interviews with the creative team and a cast gallery are a model example that others should aspire to.

Claus Guth’s Glyndebourne staging of La Clemenza di Tito is one that I will undoubtedly be playing again soon.

Michael Cookson

 




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