Mozart - La clemenza di Tito
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Mozart: La clemenza di Tito
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Sir Charles Mackerras leads a fine performance of Mozart's last opera seria, a work that should be far better appreciated than it is. Full of dignity and poise, aria follows duet follows aria, fascinatingly scored, and exactly the correct length. The numbers are expressive and filled with the information we need to know these characters. Sesto, a travesty role, is taken by Magdalena Kozena, who follows in the footsteps of Teresa Berganza, Cecilia Bartoli, and Anne Sofie von Otter and proves their equal. Her gorgeous voice and technique shine through. Hillevi Martinpelto's Vitellia is handsomely sung; Christine Rice, sounding much like Kozena, is fine as his friend Annio; Lisa Milne's pretty, silvery tone is just right for Servilia. As Tito, Rainer Trost sings with dignity and accuracy in the character's noble and sometimes very florid music, and John Relyea lends his dark bass to the part of Publio. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is augmented by some period players on brass, and the effect is exciting. This may not be your number-one choice--Hogwood and Bartoli and Gardiner and von Otter are better---but it's an excellent performance nonetheless. --Robert Levine
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Charles Mackerras has never struck me as being an inspired Mozart but he's highly competent for sure. Contrary to my expectations, he's the star of this venture. He wheedles what he can from a less-than-stellar cast. In terms of drama and vocal acting, supported by the gutsy playing of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, this is a signal triumph; one understands why Mozart hailed Mazzolà's libretto as "true opera." The ensembles are vividly characterised. For instance, the gravity of the situation in "Vengo ... aspettate ... Sesto!" is superbly conveyed. K 621 is graced with two magnificent finales - each of them is an event-horizon. The conclusion of Act I ("Deh, conservate, oh Dei,") is stirring stuff. Here is further refutation - not that it's needed - of the near-infallible Charles Rosen: "More puzzling still, in an entirely different way, is the case of La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart's last opera. Written (in haste, it is true) at a time when Mozart was composing some of his greatest music, it is a work of exquisite grace and rarely redeemed dullness . . . Tito has all the finish of Mozart's finest works - Mozart's music is never less than beautiful - but it is difficult to convey how unmemorable it is." Mind you, Rosen also claimed that "if (Idomeneo) could have been saved for the repertory, it would have happened by now . . . . ."
Sadly, for all the dramatic thrust of this performance, much of the singing is ordinary. That equates to a big fat fail in Mozart.
The Amazonian Editorial has Magdalena Kozena up in lights as Sesto and rightly so. Her "Parto, ma tu ben mio" is a treat. Sample her gutsy treatment of the accompanied recitative "Oh Dei, che smania è questa" - this is what it means to internalise a role.
The key determinant in the success or otherwise of K 621 is the character of Vitellia, sung here by Hillevi Martinpelto. Her voice is squally. Nor does she strike me as being a great talent. She fails to project the venom and willpower required to enliven this harpy. From there, things fall apart.
Whatever his tessitura might be, Rainer Trost is no Tito. To be sure, he sings with intensity and in character (say, his "Te Della Patria II Padre") but his upper register is a bit plummy (to wit, "Ah, se fosse intorno al trono"). He also acts as a drag on the Act 2 finale where his projection is weak.
Much to my delight, John Reylea as Publio wobbles as if channelling the ghost of Theo Adam from Clemenza Di Tito. This could be the start of a curse.
I like Christine Rice as Annio. Her ardour in "Ah, perdona al primo affetto" is praiseworthy. "Tu fosti traditor" is also very listenable. Like is not love.
Lisa Milne as Servilia has a small but pleasant voice. She lacks the voluptuousness of Edith Mathis from Bohm's recording.
The recording is sensational. The orchestral accompaniment is perfectly balanced with the singers. For instance, I heard detail in "Come ti piace imponi" that was hitherto unknown to me.
Nothing if not vivid, I cannot recommend this performance in preference to Imperator Spurius Labienus Nero (that's what the online name-romaniser made of Colin Davis) Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito (Philips Complete Mozart Edition, Vol. 44) to say nothing of the infamous version by Servius Otacilius Asina (Jeggy!) or Marcus Flaminius Hypsaeus (Harnoncourt) or Decimus Flavius Lepidus (Bohm).
Look at Constantine's hand on the cover: he's making the same recommendation too.