La Clemenza di Tito (Metropolitan Opera)

Completed in 1791, just months before his death, Mozart’s glorious opera seria (rumoured to have been completed in just 18-days), written after the majority of ‘Die Zauberflöte’ (‘The Magic Flute’) had been completed, to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor as King of Bohemia, is undoubtedly the most personal, emotional and most heartfelt of his astonishing works, fully encapsulating the pain, anguish and compassion suffered in his own life.

Set in Ancient Rome, in the year 79 AD, the plot concerns the Roman Emperor Tito (Titus), the 10th Emperor of the Roman Empire, and the two nobles, Sesto, a young patrician and friend of Tito, and Vitellia, the daughter of the deposed Emperor Vitellio, who, caught up in a complex story of unrequited romance, betrayal and jealousy, devise an accomplished plot to assassinate the Emperor.

The Latvian mezzo-soprano, Elina Garanca, delivers an expected high level of quality to the challenging central trouser role of Sestro (originally written for a leading castrato), beautifully and convincingly drawing out the emotion, inner turbulence and conflicting struggles of the character and gloriously meeting the difficult vocal demands and complexities of the role.

Giuseppe Filianoti is overall very strong in the eponymous tenor role, finding a well-acheived balance between fierce command and gentle compassion and effectively highlighting the ‘clemency’ of the title, though vocally he did sound just a little strained towards the higher notes and lacked some of the authoritative, vocal power the role requires.

The ever enjoyable and ever impressive Italian soprano, Barbara Frittoli, stays true to top form, adding a further level of quality and experience to the production, clearly relishing the role of the scheming Vitellia, delivering a beautiful rendition of the Act II ‘Non più di fiori’, and complementing the sumptuous vocals with her customary bravado and flair.

Previously seen in the Met’s productions of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Faust, Roméo et Juliette and Das Rheingold, the vivacious mezzo-soprano, Kate Lindsey, a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, truly excels in the trouser role of Annio and delivers one of the strongest and most effectively realised performances of the production.

Making her Metropolitan Opera debut, English soprano Lucy Crowe leaves a shimmering impression as Sesto’s sister Servilia and bass Oren Gradus delivers a powerful and imposing performance in the minor role of Publio, the Commander of the Praetorian Guard.

The superb British conductor Harry Bicket, often closely associated with the baroque repertoire, and his use of period-instruments, once again proves himself as one of the finest Mozart interpreter’s of recent times, drawing out a glorious rendering of Mozart’s majestic and emotive score, from the outstanding Met orchestra.

The opera is however very plot heavy, or dialogue heavy, and it does demand a great deal of concentration and perseverance from the audience, and I did feel at times that with this production, the important, central plot line was not conveyed clearly or effectively enough, with the clever plot twists and sly character deviations often being lost among slightly bland and stilted staging. This is a slow burning piece of opera, and relies heavily on cleverly achieved characterisation, clearly transferred text and an effective injection of pace and energy to provide an exciting and rewarding experience, and I just felt that the pacing was too slow and drawn out, diminishing the effectiveness of the piece and both the power of the text and the poignancy of the finale.

However, staging aside, the audio, and other visual aspects are all superbly presented, and the Met have delivered a beautifully achieved production of Mozart’s highly personal swansong, featuring a fine cast, chorus and orchestra, wonderful set and costume design from Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and elegant lighting design from Gil Wechsler.

The next Live In HD broadcast will be on December 8 at 12:55 pm ET/5:55pm GMT with David Alden’s stylish new production of Verdi’s great, dramatic tale of vengeance ‘ Un Ballo In Maschera’, starring the outstanding quintet of Marcelo Álvarez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Kathleen Kim and Stephanie Blythe and conducted by Fabio Luisi.

Running time: 3 hrs. 10 minutes (approx.)

Photography: Ken Howard

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