Elīna Garanča as Sesto, Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito, and Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia.Reviewed by James Karas
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Mozart composed La Clemenza di Tito in the last months of his life when his health and finances were in pretty bad shape. One critic has suggested that Mozart composed much of La Clemenza on automatic pilot. The plane may seem to have veered off course now and then when the opera is examined in detail, but Mozart could compose extraordinary stuff even on automatic pilot.
The Metropolitan Opera offers its 1984 production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle to mortals around the world Live in HD. Interestingly, this was the Met’s first staging of the opera and you can use that as a gauge to the popularity of the work.
Ponnelle and the Met were not taking any chances by treating the work as a small-scale opera seria. They give it a full-blown grand opera treatment and the result is thoroughly enjoyable.
The sets designed by Ponnelle would meet with the approval of Cecil B. DeMille. Huge columns, arcades and large stone steps give the impression not so much of the Roman Empire as it may have been in the first century but of the ruins of Rome as seen by tourists many centuries later. The costumes designed by Ponnelle have nothing to do with Rome. The wigs, the ruffles and the beautiful gowns are strictly eighteenth century haute couture.
La Clemenza has six characters, four male and two female, but only two of the roles are sung by men, Emperor Tito (sung by tenor Giuseppe Filianoti in this production) and the minor role of Publio, the Captain of the Praetorian Guard (sung by baritone Oren Gradus).
Filianoti has a light tenor voice and he sings with ease. This Tito has a broad, luminous face that has a ready smile on his face. He wants to be decent in the face of treachery and attempted murder. But what he has to confront is so vile that he becomes indecisive to the point of paralysis at times. When you pardon someone who has tried to kill you, you have crossed the line between clemency and stupidity. Tito wants to be decent no matter what.
Tito’s big aria is “Se all’impero, amici dei” near the end of the opera. It is long and varied in speed but it requires some vibrato and Filianoti had some difficulty with it. But he sang well otherwise. Giving us a rather wimpy Tito is much better than a heroic one that dramatic tenors tend to deliver.
Sesto sung by mezzo Elina Garanča and Vitellia in the hands of soprano Barbara Frittoli dominate the opera. Sesto is a friend of Tito’s and in love with Vitellia who has a grudge against the emperor and wants to kill him. The two reach operatic emotional and ethical crises (don’t worry about the details) and give truly marvelous vocal performances. Frittoli as Vitellia is ferocious, selfish, manipulative and quite scary. She tended to flail a bit much with her arms at times but you quickly forgot about it and watched an outstanding performance. Her singing of “Non piu di fiori” is a marvel. She can lower her voice to a lower register and with the help of some dramatic lighting give the crowning moment of the opera.
Garanča is an effective Sesto especially in her great aria “Deh, per questo istante” where she/he begs Tito for forgiveness. She sings beautifully and melts Tito into forgiveness under very tough circumstances.
Mezzo soprano Kate Lindsey is Annio, Sesto’s friend and in love with his sister Servilia (soprano Lucy Crowe). They both perform without a hitch.
Harry Bicket conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
A few comments about the director for the telecast. This is the person who chooses the camera angles, the close-ups and basically what we see in the theatre. Except for a few hitches Barbara Willis Sweete does a very good job. She does not think that we are watching a video game, thank you. We could do with fewer close-ups but let it go at that. One of the annoying hitches was showing us the chorus shuffling into place at the end of “Se al volto,” the great trio in the second act. We do not need to look behind the curtain during pauses in the performance. Save that for the intermission.
Aside from those minor complaints, it proved quite an afternoon at the opera.____
La Clemenza di Tito by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was shown Live in HD on December 1, 2012 at The Beach Cinemas, 1651 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON, M4L 1G5 and other theatres across Canada. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events