Germany Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito, Orchestra and Chorus of the Bayerische Staatsoper, Adam Fischer (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 16.7.2014 (JMI)
Tito: Toby Spence
Sesto: Tara Erraught
Vitellia: Kristina Opolais
Annio: Angela Brower
Servilia: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Publio: Tareq Nazmi
Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Jan Bosse
Sets: Stéphane Laimé
Costumes: Victoria Behr
Lighting: Ingo Bracke
La Clemenza di Tito is not an easy opera to mount, and it’s no wonder that the work is often performed in concert version. Munich’s production served Mozart well in musical terms, but was rather more irregular on stage, with lights and shades in the cast.
This Jan Bosse production premiered here last February. Bosse’s work gives a lot of importance to aesthetics, even if his concept in this respect will not be shared by all. Judging by the costumes, he has moved the action to the Baroque era, with theatre in the theatre: the chorus uses the side boxes in the first act. The stage features a semicircle that could be both a Roman theatre and the Senate itself, crowned with large column sat the back and a round space at the front for the singers. In Act II, after the burning of the Capitol, the stage is completely bare. The soloists’ costumes, especially for Vitellia and Servilia, are heavy and exaggerated rococo dresses with some even more exaggerated wigs. Mr. Bossedoes not seem togive any importance to the fact that Sesto and Annius are male, and presents Sesto in high heels while Annius has to wear an extremely strange wig. Following his aesthetic concept, Mr. Bosse dresses orchestra, chorus and conductor in white for the first half of the opera, and then has them change into black.
It’s hard to determine whether Jan Bosse takes the opera seriously or the opposite. Publius looks like a kind of priest but, strangely, he plays the part as if he were the court jester. It’s a somewhat extravagant stage production with not particularly brilliant stage direction.
Conductor Adam Fischer replaced Kirill Petrenko, who is now rehearsing in Bayreuth. Mr. Fischer’s reading was quite energetic and vibrant, but perhaps lacking some of the lightness usually associated with Mozart. But all in all, the conducting was remarkable. There were numerous cuts to the recitatives, which seems to worry only the purists. The orchestra was excellent, with special mentions to Markus Schön (clarinet) and Martina Beck (basset horn), who respectively ̶ and brilliantly ̶ accompanied the scenes of Sesto and Vitellia. The chorus also gave a strong performance.
The Emperor Titus was sung by tenor Toby Spence, whose acting was more convincing than his singing. His voice is a little light for the character, and he had serious difficulties in the fundamental aria, “se all’impero.” It is always a joy to see him recovered from his serious past illness.
The triumph of the evening was for mezzo soprano Tara Erraught as Sesto. Just over a month ago, she was the subject of bitter controversy in England after she sang Octavian at Glyndebourne, and a well-known critic commented negatively on her physical suitability for the role. Now, all are praising her performance in the part of Sesto. She possesses a beautiful voice and is an excellent singer. I think no one has been able to settle the earlier controversy better than she: Ms. Erraught has proved herself to be a great singer, and the rest doesn’t matter.
Kristina Opolais came from a major personal triumph in London in Manon Lescaut with Jonas Kaufmann. Any opera lover knows that the distance is huge between Puccini and Mozart, and I was surprised to see her announced as Vitellia. She is an exceptional artist, but her vocal quality is not sufficient. For me, Mozart has the great virtue of being the best possible touchstone to judge a singer: strengths and weaknesses are always up front when singing his music. Kristina Opolais did not convince me in the character, except as an interpreter. Her soprano is not beautiful: it is somewhat shrill at the top, and her low notes are not what Vitellia demands. In some operas this might be hidden by her other outstanding qualities, but not in Mozart.
The vocal and stage performances by the second pair of lovers, Annius and Servilia, were noteworthy. Annius was played brilliantly by mezzo soprano Angela Brower, a great singer with a very attractive although not very powerful voice. I also enjoyed Hanna-Elisabeth Müller and her attractive light soprano in the part of Servilia. Finally, Tareq Nazmi as Publius was very convincing.
Again the theatre was sold out. At the final bows there were cheers for the singers, and particularly for Tara Erraught.
José Mª Irurzun