Gimmicks Fail to Liven Up Mozart’s Clemenza

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, La Clemenza di Tito (1791) sung in Italian with English surtitles: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North / Douglas Boyd (conductor), The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays. 12-16.3.2013. (RJF)

Tito: Paul Nillon
Vitellia: Annemarie Kremer
Sesto: Helen Lepalaanas
Annio: Kathryn Rudge

This was the first production of Mozart’s penultimate staged opera for Opera North. Its composition and circumstances greatly pained Mozart who was only commissioned because Salieri was too busy. The opera was written and staged in Prague to celebrate the coronation of the Hapsburg emperor, Leopold II, as King of Bohemia. It interrupted his composition of The Magic Flute. However, in a more impecunious state than even usual for him it was a welcome payday. As circumstances were to emerge it was to provide his widow with a welcome source of income with this death within a year of the premiere.

It is in the classical and static form of Opera Seria, often based on a play by Metastasio. Mozart had seemingly left the form behind with Idomeneo more than a decade before after which he moved on to his memorable Singspiele and somewhat risqué operatic masterpieces to libretti by the libertine, defrocked Da Ponte. Unlike his Opera Seria, those works stand alongside the popular works of Verdi as the mainstays of the operatic repertoire today. Although subject to modernisation and concepts they can stand on their own feet as music, drama and entertainment.

Getting life into the Opera Seria form is a difficult challenge for producers with many, inevitably, resorting to every gimmick in the book. Opera North gave the challenge to John Fulljames, associate director of opera at the Royal Opera House. His set of kaleidoscopic geometric shapes, and ever moving projections, often framed by a large TV type screen were neither realistic nor any way representational of Rome. Nor were there any togas or period costumes on view. All the costumes except for a vivid red dress early on and some colourful hair and wedding dress in white for Vitellia in act two were uniformly black.

Thankfully, all the singing was at least adequate, and in some instances significantly more than that. Add alert idiomatic conducting from Douglas Boyd and at least some of the inert nature of Opera Seria were overcome and the drama of the story realised. Notable acting and singing came from Estonian mezzo Helen Lepalaan as Sesto, recent RNCM alumni Kathryn Rudge as Annio and the evergreen Paul Nillon as Tito. Annemarie Kremer as Vitellia came more into her own in Act Two, seemingly uninvolved and underpowered in the first act.

As with the Poulenc/Purcell double bill (also reviewed here), La Clemenza di Tito received poor audience support with acres of empty seats in The Lowry. I am glad I do not have to balance Opera North’s budget!

Further performance at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on Thursday March 21st.
Robert J Farr (15-03-2013)