Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Clemency of Titus

Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Production:  Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Tito:  Giuseppe Filianoti
Vitellia:  Barbara Frittoli
Sesto:  Elina Garanca
Servilia:  Lucy Crowe
Annio:  Kate Lindsey

Today was the simulcast of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from the Metropolitan Opera.Why isn't this opera more popular?  It has some of Mozart's most beautiful music.  The libretto is by Metastasio with additional material by the court poet Caterino Mazzolà.

The production is by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle who died in 1988 and places the opera squarely in the 18th century.  No authentic Roman while residing in his capitol city would be seen in anything but his toga.  They loved the toga simply because if you were not Roman there was no hope of you keeping it on.  The people in our opera are dressed in wigs and trousers somewhat like people in the 18th century would have worn.

The single set looks a little like Rome, but the buildings are rough and falling down like they are now rather than relatively new looking as they would have been when Titus was Emperor.  During his reign the coliseum was completed, Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompei, and Rome burned.  This opera refers to the fire and his romance with Berenice, a Jewish queen.

Giuseppe Filianoti is an Italian lyric tenor, and I liked him enormously today.  He made a point of mentioning that he studies with Alfredo Kraus.  He is in good hands.

Barbara Frittoli sang Vitalia beautifully and portrayed her at her most nuts.  One can't help wondering if any of them deserve the clemency they are receiving.  She was excellent singing the almost baritonal "Non piu di fiori."

Kate Lindsey sang a fine Annio.  Susan Graham listed off Kate's pants roles at the Met, like Siebel in Faust, Tebaldo in Don Carlo, Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette, Cherubino in Figaro and most notably Nicklausse in Tales of Hoffmann.  She makes a very handsome young man, but I was surprised to see that she is not as tall as Elina.  Lucy Crowe made her Met debut as Servilia.

Elīna Garanča as Sesto received star billing and star bows.  It was she who led out the conductor Harry Bicket at the end, though she did not stand near the center of the stage.  She received a well deserved ovation for everything about her work in this role. Though written for a castrato, the role fell beautifully into her voice, and her dramatic phrasing was inspiring.  Susan Graham who also sings this role in this production was impressed by how Elina walked down the steps without looking down.  You probably had to be Susan Graham to be impressed by this.

I loved this.  This is some of Mozart's best music, but is generally dismissed as uninspiring.   My handout doesn't name a replacement director for the long dead Ponnelle, but someone must have led them to this intensity of acting.  All the performers bring great emotional depth to their roles.

This interview with Filianoti has a lot of interesting things.

Most interesting to me is his remarks on how hard it is to sing the recitatives by Franz Xaver Süssmayr compared to the arias by Mozart.  Maybe that's why they dropped them in Zurich.

1 comment:

saraciborski said...

There is a great discussion of Clemenza in Wm. Mann's book, The Operas of Mozart, in which he raves about this work, rating it equal in many respects to Mozart's better known masterpieces: "glorious" and "superbly dramatic" arias, choruses that are "music of sublime beauty," etc. Perhaps you know this wonderful book. Mann provides biographical background for the composition of every single one of Mozart's operas (often with details omitted from the standard biographies), a close look at each number, and comment on the requirements for good performance. I too saw the Met Live one on Saturday: it was the better than any of the three productions on DVDs that I own.