Mozart: La clemenza di Tito
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(Mar 29, 2011)
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Michael Schade, Vesselina Kararova, Dorothea Roeschmann, Elina Garanca, and Barbara Bonney star in this 2003 Salzburg Festival production of the Mozart opera conducted by Nikolaus Harnon Court with the Vienna Philharmonic, and directed by Martin Kusej.
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So we now go from Mozart's conception to the conception of Mr. Kusej, the director, who makes the main character [Titus] a psychopath wreck. It is painful to look at him on the stage, running around the three-storied stage in a skirt over his pants, chewing his fingernails after scratching his hair, and presenting the type of singing what a strangely contorted face can do.
The first act - just to demonstrate Mr. Kusej's improvements over Mozart - ends with two huge and loud explosions on the stage, right after Maestro Harnoncourt's beautiful and quiet closing music ends. The two wonderful mezzo-s [Kasarova & Garanca] are visibly struggling throughout the performance to create, and sing, their operatic characters vis-a-vis the psychopath Titus.
You must be prepaired to sit through most of the performance with closed eyes, but even then you would hear the craziness of Michael Schade [Tito]. To finish this sad review, I must say that "es ist Schade" [it's sad] to have such a good opera destroyed by a stage director.
After approximately 20 viewings over the years, this has moved to number three on my list of opera favorites. Being a Verdi nut, Traviata and Rigoletto are Numbers one and two. Essentially perfect operas because Verdi in his middle period never lets the incredible music stop. If Mozart had cut the last act of Figaro in half, It would move up to be included in my top five.
This is not written as a commentary on my taste, so on to the issue of La clemenza di Tito. This singspiel, in my opinion is the best opera that Mozart wrote. His love for the clarinet comes into play a couple of times but the use of the basset clarinet in Vitellia's final aria is truly wonderful. The cast is as good as it gets and as a group, certainly far above those of the other dvd's available. Speaking of other available videos, I have owned or seen them all and although many will accept only these period performances, in my opinion (and that's what it is, folks) they are all unwatchable compared to this performance.
That's the good stuff: conductor and cast clearly a dream team.
The only thing that will turn some people off is some aspects of the stage direction. The director introduces some nonsensical bits
that certainly could and should have been omitted. However, producing a quality opera may be the most difficult of all stagings, so
grit your teeth through the few silly bits and enjoy the great music and singing.
The singing is wonderful. 'Vitellia''s music is extremely difficult and Dorothea Roeschmann acts all out on stage very convincingly. Her Vitellia really comes to life ..all blood and guts! As convincingly in-character during the arias as in the recitatives.
Vesselina Kasarova is the gold standard Sesto today. She sings breathtaking pianissimo, but that carries more effect when heard live than recorded. She is known for her soft-singing for good reasons. And when she abruptly blasts you with ff passages straight out from a pp and then right back to it in pieces like 'Deh, per questo istante solo', the effect is very dramatic. What a fascinating artist! Everything she does enhances her story telling. This Sesto isn't a wimpy caricature (like all the other versions on film.. Paris included) but a man who, presented with a choice of either his lover or his friend, decides on his own that he could live without Tito. A passionate and believeable performance by one of best 'Sesto' ever.
Kasarova, Roeschmann, and Schade share the rare quality of being able to make what they sing sound so spontaneously natural with their acting and not like they are singing a rehearsed music at all.
Young Elina Garanca is a revelation to me. I did not like her in the Vienna 'Werther' DVD, tho much was the fault of the stage direction, but she turns in a very natural 'Annio' here. Not very facially expressive yet. Good chemistry (barring a disconnected look during the love duet) with the gorgeous Barbara Bonney's 'Servilia', who turns in another outstanding performance. Her top may not be as crystaline as before (and I wish she wasn't made to do so much singing lying down during 'S'altro che lagrima'), but otherwise she is exquisite.
Michael Schade plays 'Tito', and gosh he looks hot! Sweating like he's trying to flood the town. Was there a heat wave in Salzburg during that festival? He sings wonderfully, tho. Here is a tenor who can and does sing softly to great effects (tho, like Kasarova's, his pianissimo is often barely audible in the recording). Vocally there isn't a better Tito out there today. His 'insane' choreography takes some getting used to. It's as if he's been watching Vincent D'Onofrio too much. Very neurotic. I thought Tito is supposed to be a bit more sane looking. Truth be told, his mentally iffy Tito does make it understandable why Sesto would choose Vitellia (for all her touchiness) over him.
The young bass Luca Pisaroni acts and sings 'Publio' perfectly, tho his Publio seems to think the 'Se al volto mai ti senti' trio in Act II is a scene where he wants to bed Sesto and Vitellia... Apparently Kusej has Publio out looking for love in all the wrong places through out the opera (wrong places for Publio, that is). All in all, there just isn't a weak link in this cast!
The set is clever; a modern 3 stories see-through building and the actors/singers have to navigate the thing sometimes singing ensemble pieces from different levels! It works great since they can show actions away from the singer doing his/her aria so it isn't static like other productions tend to be. I especially love the burning of Rome sequence and like the use of lighting to direct attention to the characters key to the scene.
Maestro Harnoncourt is excellent in the pit. He sets quite slow tempi (but the music doesn't drag). This makes this production quite a bit longer than the others (tho it helps that the recitatives are shorter in general). Harnoncourt succeeds in bringing out all the nuances in Mozart's last opera with it, tho. And he has a cast of singers with superb techniques capable of coping with the tempi. As a result this production is much more dramatically affecting than the others. The 2 clarinet-soloists are marvellous in the two obbligato arias, too.
I enthusiastically recommend this DVD. A gorgeous musical performance that is passionately acted, too. There are clips from 6 other TDK releases on the 2nd disc (from: Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflote, Ariadne auf Naxos, Un ballo in maschera, Turandot, and Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail).
PS: A star is omitted because of some choreography for the chorus (and those boys in underwear) is so abstract I can't understand it even after many viewings. It is still the best production of this opera on DVD, in my opinion.