Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Graham as Sesto (Clemenza di Tito) [Photo: Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
13 May 2008

Ponnelle Clemenza remains a masterpiece

Opera companies should practice historic preservation, keeping certain productions forever in the repertory because of their quality and aesthetic value.

W. A. Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito

Above: Susan Graham as Sesto
All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1984 staging of La Clemenza di Tito that returned to the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in May would be an obvious candidate for such preservation.

The opening scene of this production of Mozart’s last opera is sufficient to identify Ponnelle as a major master of his profession. Clemenza, the last significant work of opera seria, is a work mammoth both in its dimensions and its emotions. Ponnelle’s recreation of first-century Rome at its colossal height brings to mind Winckelmann’s characterization of the art of antiquity as “noble simplicity and calm grandeur.”

CLEMENZA_Iveri_as_Vitellia_.pngTamar Iveri as Vitellia
Ponnelle’s Rome — it fills the Met’s mammoth stage — is grand in its columns, arches, balconies and stairs, and if a certain amount of decay is evident, these fissures are only a reflection of the dysfunctional figures in this drama of treachery and treason, all more interesting as character studies than as living humans. For in opera seria it is the drama within that is of the essence, and arias are largely confessional. Play the first scene of Don Giovanni on an empty stage in street clothes and you have more absorbing action than in the entire three hours of Clemenza.

Happily Ponnelle understood this and designed sets and beautifully painted, luminous scrims that are drained of color and serve as a perfect environment for the half a dozen ill-focused people all seemingly in love with an inappropriate — or unavailable — mate.

Only recently has Clemenza, written for the 1791 Prague coronation of Joseph II of Austria as emperor of Bohemia, come to be regarded as worthy of staging. For over a century, scholars apologized for the opera — a by-product of The Magic Flute and the Requiem, a work written in great haste. Some accounts assert that Mozart composed it in 18 days and assigned the recitatives to his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr. The fact that opera seria was already out of fashion when Mozart wrote Clemenza further complicates its place in history.

CLEMENZA_Vargas_as_Tito_151.pngRamón Vargas as Tito
All this was no problem for Ponnelle, who recognized the quality of the music that Mozart had written and took his cues from the score in making the opera an impressing experience on stage. For the revival the Met came up with an ideal cast that — no matter what the title says — was headed by Susan Graham, who — now in her late 40s — remains the reigning mezzo of her generation. As Sesto, Graham’s combination of vocal and acting gifts — plus her stature of almost six feet — makes it difficult to see this best friend — and almost assassin — of Emperor Tito as the weak-willed courtier described in opera guides.

Magnificent in everything she does, Graham stole the show in the packed performance on May 6 and no doubt did much to inspire those on stage with her. (For the Prague premiere castrato Domenico Bedini was brought from Italy to sing Sesto.)

CLEMENZA_Grant_Murphy_Iveri.pngHeidi Grant Murphy (Servilia), Tamar Iveri (Vitellia) and Anke Vondung (Annio)
Ramón Vargas, the Met’s Rodolfo of the season, brought baritone heft to his portrayal of Tito, whose ability to forgive even those who would have killed him gives the opera its title.

Most difficult figure in the cast is Vitellia, the rotten apple without whom there would be no story. (The worm at her core was planted there, of course, by Tito, who unjustly usurped power from Vitellia’s father.) For Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri the changing moods of the woman determined to kill Tito if she could not marry him were handled with enviable ease.

Servilia and Annio, the innocent young lovers who barely manage to stay out of the way of the machinations of others, were lovingly sung by Heidi Grant Murphy and Anke Vondung. Bass Oren Gradus brought dignity to Tito‘s advisor Publio.

Responsible for much of the success of the revival was the conducing of England’s Harry Bicket, a young man seen with increasing frequency in opera houses and with orchestras on this side of the Atlantic. Bicket, a leading authority on early opera, seemed to relish Mozart’s extensive use of the clarinet in the score. (The instrument was still largely alien to classical orchestras in this year of Mozart’s death.)

CLEMENZA_Graham_Vondung_119.pngSusan Graham (Sesto) and Anke Vondung (Annio)
As stage director of the revival Laurie Feldman was marvelously loyal to Ponnelle’s intentions.

The overall excellence of the Met performance sharply contradicts the opinion of Leopold’s Spanish-born throne-mate who at the premiere found Clemenza “German hogwash.” But above all it was Ponnelle’s wisdom in taking the opera at face value rather than trying to make of Clemenza something that it is not who deserves the highest praise of the success of the staging.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):