Frankfurt’s lacklustre Clemenza di Tito

Mozart, La Clemenza di Tito: Soloists, Frankfurter Opern und Museumsorchester, Chor der Oper Frankfurt. Conductor: Julia Jones. Oper Frankfurt 7. 5.2011 (JMI)

Production Oper Frankfurt in coproduction with Theatre an der Wien.
Direction: Christof Loy (Original) Tobias Heyder (Revival)
Sets and Costumes: Herbert Murauer
Lighting. Olaf Winter


Tito: Kurt Streit
Vittelia: Katie Van Kooten
Sesto. Jenny Carlstedt
Annio: Paula Murrihy
Servilia: Brenda Rae
Publio: Florian Plock

Frankfurt Opera puts this Christof Loy production,  premiered in 2006 , on stage  once again. I had the opportunity to see it in February 2006 when I spent a weekend in Frankfurt and attended three different productions by Christof Loy (Elektra, Un Ballo in Maschera and this La Clemenza). I recall that all three productions moved the action to the present day and in La Clemenza this choice worked much more badly than in the other two. The production has an interesting start in Vittelia’s bedroom, but as the action progresses, the inintial interest fails. There was a revolving stage, something quite usual in Mr. Loy’s productions, but it was used with much less imagination that in some other productions, resulting finally in a staging that proved quite monotonous and boring. The costumes were and still are mostly in black and grey and are not spectacular either. There is a decent lighting plot however , as is usual in Frankfurt. To be fair to Mr Loy, the hard truth is that it is never easy bring this opera to life, since the the libretto is so static, but this production was far from successful. Stage direction was never bad, but it did not offer anything truly exciting. Having said thos I don’t think I have ever seen an exciting production of this opera, so that I am more and more convinced that it is better – and more cheaply – served by concert performances.

Musical direction was under the baton of Julia Jones, whose work was sadly not terribly compelling either. I have had several opportunities in the past to see this British conductor on the podium and my impressions have been mostly very positive, and I again I have to point out that La Clemenza di Tito is a very difficult opera to conduct. Each and every time I see it, I have the impression that the musical reading is flat in the first act and then improves in the second half, which is exactly what happened here. This brings me to the conclusion that the opera needs a truly great conductor to give life to Act I, which otherwise is much too static and even tedious. Even the excellent orchestra did not seem the same as it was the day before this performance yesterday in Die Feen. It is a great pity – at least in my opinion – that Mozart did not write more choral pages in this opera, because Frankfurt has an outstanding chorus.

As we had five years ago, we had Emperor Titus sung by the American tenor Kurt Streit. His performance was exemplary in recitatives, which are the main element of his role and it is not possible to sing them with more intensity than Mr. Streit does. Vocally however, he seems not at his best now and continues to show the same not too bright top end to his voice that I noted when I heard him befor.

The American soprano Katie Van Kooten was making her debut in Frankfurt and her Vittelia struck me as rather uneven. She has an attractive and compelling figure on stage, with a good soprano in the middle range, but she is rather weak at the lower end of her range and her top notes are always much too open. I suspect that Vittelia is not for her: in fact it is only a good role for a very small selection of sopranos.

Jenny Carlstedt sand Sesto and was not too convincing either. Her voice is too small for the role – I think – and there is insufficient variety in her singing. She is certainly a remarkable interpreter on stage, but that is not quite enough.

Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy as Annio had a bigger voice than Sesto’s, but also with the disadvantage of insufficient variety.Brenda Rae was Servilia and needs a bigger role to show off her undoubted skills. I’d like to see her in more important parts.

Surprisingly, the theater was about 80 % full. The audience seemed pleased but applauded all the artists without hugely obvious enthusiasm.

José Ma. Irurzun