10 Dec 2012
The Met’s La Clemenza di Tito blends inspired singing with dazzling wind obbligatos
The live HD simulcast of Mozart’s final operatic effort, set in ancient Rome, reached friends, Romans and countrymen the world over
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
The live HD simulcast of Mozart’s final operatic effort, set in ancient Rome, reached friends, Romans and countrymen the world over
The Roman Emperor Titus was by all accounts a forgiving man. At least when compared to the likes of Caligula, Nero and Commodus. But even Titus (or Tito, as he’s known in this opera) would have been hard-pressed to find anything in need of a pardon at the Met’s handsomely sung and visually appealing production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.
A splendid cast of singers, led by the brilliant Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanĉa, included strong supporting efforts by Kate Lindsey and Lucy Crowe — as well as some outstanding efforts from the orchestra pit. Put it all together, and the Met’s revival of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1984 production, set in ancient Rome, is worthy of, well, lending an ear.
Mozart began working on his final opera soon after beginning Die Zauberflöte, and completed it in 18 days — an astounding feat, even making all allowances for his subcontracting out of the continuo-accompanied recitatives.
La Clemenza di Tito was commissioned in 1791 to commemorate the coronation of Austrian Emperor Leopold II as King of Bavaria. Mozart obliged by reaching back in time to the crusty old Italian opera seria style championed by Pietro Metastasio — the early 18th century librettist whose plots extolled the magnanimity of enlightened kings and emperors.
Mozart settled on a revision of the Metastasio’s libretto by Venetian poet Caterino Mazzola that afforded him greater flexibility in structuring the arias.
The plot focuses principally on first-century Roman Emperor Titus (Giuseppe Filianoti) and Vitellia (Barbara Frittoli), the self-centered and manipulative daughter of the former emperor usurped by Titus. Jealous of the emperor’s affections toward other women, Vitellia convinces her love-struck suitor Sesto (Elīna Garanĉa) to assassinate him, and Sesto obliges by settings the royal palace on fire in an unsuccessful attempt on the emperor’s life. Unaware of the conspiracy, Titus agrees to marry Vitellia — who realizes her good fortune will come at the expense of Sesto, now imprisoned for treason and prepared to face execution rather than implicate her. In the magnificent aria “Non più di fiori,” Vitellia wrestles with her conscience and ultimately admits complicity in the plot, hoping to save Sesto. Titus, displaying royal compassion endemic to all Metastasio protagonists, decides to forgive all. Long live the emperor. Long live Leopold II. (Applause.)
Elīna Garanča as Sesto and Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia
Garanĉa, whom Met audiences no doubt remember as the title character in both Carmen and La Cenerentola, was in outstanding form in the “trousers role” of Emperor Titus’s confidante (and would-be assassin), Sesto. Here, she crafted a dramatically three-dimensional character torn between his genuine friendship for the emperor and his dysfunctional infatuation with the vengeful Vitellia.
Her signature aria “Parto, parto” revealed an agile vocal quality sufficiently nimble to weave up and down the scale in rapid triplets figures that were handsomely in-sync with the accomplished clarinet obbligato provided by Anthony McGill.
It was nevertheless Garanĉa’s lengthy second-act aria, “Deh per questo istante,” which proved the showstopper. This emotionally charged aria ranks among Mozart’s very best, and its relaxed and leisurely tempo left ample room for Garanĉa to lay bare her character’s soul, which she did to powerful effect.
When I last saw Barbara Frittoli as Micaëla in the Met’s 2010-2011 season production of Carmen I praised the Italian soprano’s formidable vocal skills, but added that her acting abilities left much to be desired. Judging from Saturday’s performance, little has changed. Void of any appreciable degree of meaningful facial expressions (and one cannot hide from the close-up camera work), Frittoli remained emotionally aloof from the complex character she portrayed.
Vitellia must undergo a complete about-face in this story — from a raging femme fatale to a contrite, conscious-stricken human being prepared to sacrifice everything in order to spare the love-struck but well-intentioned sucker she had duped into murder. It didn’t happen. Frittoli’s “Non più di fiori,” the lengthy aria where this transformation must take place, was well sung but dramatically and emotionally vacuous.
In the pants role of the young patrician, Annio, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey sang beautifully and her acting throughout the production was beyond reproach. The lustrous quality of Lindsey’s voice was evident in her every solo and ensemble number, but it was the degree of expression and nuance that left an indelible mark on the listener’s psyche. I especially enjoyed the profound intensity of Lindsey’s second act aria “Tu fosti tradito,” sung as her character mounts a stirring appeal to the emperor for mercy.
Lucy Crowe as Servilia and Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito
It appears that Lindsey has carved a niche in “trouser roles” at the Met. In addition to Annio she has played Nicklausse (Les Contes d’Hoffmann) and Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro). But with or without pants, it’s clear that Lindsey is a first-rate singer-actress, with an ability to climb into any costume and fill every limb with body and substance.
In her Met production debut as Sesto’s sister, Servilia, English lyric soprano Lucy Crowe delivered “S’altro che lagrime” with such warmth and purity of tone I felt cheated that Mozart only allowed her character this single aria. The delicate quality to Crowe’s voice seems especially well suited to lieder, although it was clear from her delivery that she is capable of packing considerable power when needed. I eagerly await Crowe’s next role at the Met.
As the benevolent Emperor Tito, an impeccably attired Giuseppe Filianoti looked and acted well enough to qualify as the noblest Roman of them all. His pleasant sounding voice nevertheless appeared weak and shaky throughout much of the first act, beginning with the aria “Del più sublime soglio” — where the Italian lyric tenor’s middle register sounded raspy and his legato uneven.
Filianoti, who has battled the effects of a paralyzed vocal cord following the removal in 2007 of a cancerous thyroid gland, came alive in Act 2 with a much sturdier voice. He finished strongly in the second act “Se all’impero,” in spite of some difficulty keeping up with the orchestra during the 16th-note coloratura runs.
Ponnelle’s spacious period set, revealing a partially decaying interior of a huge palace in ancient Rome adorned with an array of imposing Corinthian columns, looked handsome from most every angle of Barbara Willis Sweete’s kaleidoscopic camerawork. Curiously, Ponnelle’s costumes appeared rooted in the 18th century — an anachronism suggesting perhaps that the director was trying to forge an artistic connection between “classical architecture” and “musical classicism.” Either that, or the Met costume department was running low on togas.
Kate Lindsey as Annino
English conductor and early music specialist Harry Bicket directed an alert Met Opera Orchestra that played with alacrity, even during the routine recitativo accompagnato sections. In addition to Anthony McGill’s flashy clarinet obbligato accompaniment in “Parto, parto,” James Ognibene deserves kudos for his dazzling basset horn obbligato in “Non più di fiori.” Ognibene’s liquid tone throughout the range of this tenor clarinet sounded as warm and focused as that of an A or B-flat soprano clarinet. (Both obbligato parts were tailored for Mozart’s close friend and fellow Freemason, Anton Stadler.)
It’s understandable why Clemenza fails to muster the universal level of interest enjoyed by the composer’s more popular Italian operas Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni: It simply is not as good. On the other hand, there’s much to love and admire about Mozart’s final opera, including signature arias such as “Deh per questo istante.” Perhaps the current Ponnelle production will reignite listener passion for this deserving work.
If not, we may be needing yet another pardon from Titus.
By David Abrams