La Clemenza di Tito, opera seria in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Libretto by Caterino Mazzolà after the play by Pietro Metastasio. Place and time: Rome, during the government of Tito, 79-81 A.D. Premiere: Prague, National Theatre, September 6, 1791. Attended performance: Oldenburgisches Staatstheater, 4 May 2019.
Vitellia: Narine Yeghiyan
Servilia: Martyna Cymerman
Sesto: Ann-Beth Solvang
Annio: Erica Back
Publio: Ill-Hoon Choung
La Clemenza di Tito in Oldenburg
On 4 May this year, in the charming Oldenburgsches Staatstheater, which dates from 1833, the première of La Clemenza di Tito took place. They work with a repertory company in Oldenburg and with the exception of Narine Yeghiyan, all the soloists were members of the company. A splendid mix of members of the repertory theatre, an international diva and a very young Erica Back, singing superbly the role of Annio. The 2018-2019 season consists of 7 premières and 5 reprises; 12 different operas in one season, I don’t see a similar-sized city such as Apeldoorn managing that. Anyway, there is little opera in Apeldoorn. The company held up excellently in this Clemenza: all roles were performed well to extremely well. The versatile singer and outstanding actor, tenor Philipp Kapeller, as Tito Vespasiano, battled his way bravely through the colorotura sections; it wasn’t up to Fritz Wunderlich standards, but then who is? The guest in the company was the earlier-mentioned, much-acclaimed Armenian soprano Narine Yeghiyan (playing Vitellia), who slightly disappointed me this time. There was little dynamic variation in her otherwise beautiful voice. Anger and malice were projected magnificently across the footlights, but the lyric passages in particular left us slightly wanting. In an interview, Yeghiyan once said, “Mozart ist Balsam für die Stimme und Seele”, and it was that very balm for the voice and soul that we missed. Having said that, the lady can undoubtedly sing Mozart; listen to her ‘E Susanna non vien! Dove sono‘. The heroine of the evening was, for the eyes and ears of many, Ann-Beth Solvang, singing Sesto. She has indeed an impressive and lovely vocal sound, but here too, we found little dynamic variation, and consequently, little feeling. Young Erica Back, playing Annio, was for us an extremely pleasant surprise. Whatever was lacking in her colleagues, Back more than made up for: complete commitment to the role and the dynamic nuances which resulted, not to mention the underlying musical intelligence. We predict that Ms Back has a great future ahead of her.
Director Laurence Dale – a gem
We know Laurence Dale from the days when the Reisopera was on the right track. In 2015, he co-directed a world-class production, together with Annemarie Kremer: Butterfly. We would just like to say: “Robert Wilson, eat your heart out!” And in 2017, Dale was awarded ‘Opera of the Year’ for his direction of Ariadne auf Naxos. The fact that Dale is a former opera singer no doubt contributes to the fact that the productions he directs always centre around the opera rather than the director. No strange artificial interventions in this Clemenza, such as cutting all the recitative sections and importing other Mozart music as recently happened in Amsterdam (to the cheers of Today’s People). Laurence Dale gave us La Clemenza di Tito as it should be: including almost all the recitative sections which, written in this case by Sussmayer for a Mozart pressed for time, genuinely do have their own aesthetic. In my exchanges of ideas with Today’s People, I’m always glad that there is a Laurence Dale whom I can use as an example: his direction is undeniably modern, but always without the ridiculous setting of things in current times, or dreadful and arrogant interventions in the libretto. And in this Clemenza too… His direction was modern in the best sense of the word. While respecting the composer, the score, history (Roman: we see for example the tombs of Vitellius and Vespasianus) and vocalists, he brings us an aesthetically high-quality (the staging was often breathtakingly beautiful) and intelligent direction which those who have strayed, such as Bieto and all the rest, would be hard pushed to equal. And from which they could also learn for example, that eroticism is not at all the same as vulgar pornography. Dale’s direction of La Clemenza is the ultimate proof that a production which stays true to the libretto, is not set in current times and is void of inanities is in no way old-fashioned or outdated but can be miracle of ingenuity and stylised beauty. There was certainly ingenuity in the way the small stage was given an improbable depth using set and mirrors. The idea of ‘modern’ was rightly searched for in technique, video and lighting in particular, rather than ‘updating’ which leads to idiotic discrepancies. T-shirts bearing the text ‘It’s the technology, stupid!’ are available in our web shop. It’s a puzzle to me why the large opera houses didn’t engage Dale much earlier. The fact, mentioned earlier, that he is a former professional (a successful tenor in his time) will not have worked to his advantage. They would rather employ a fashionable theatre director, preferably with no experience of opera and whose only knowledge of music staves comes from seeing them on Woolworth’s placemats.
All the members of the Oldenburgsche Staatsorchester, which played smoothly, including conductor Hendrik Vestmann, whom no-one can accuse of drawling tempi, turned out to be well-acquainted with the Mozart family, and that was to be heard. An extra compliment for the outstanding clarinettist. The fact that he probably earns a pittance compared to money-grabbing pop personalities, should be regarded as one of the grave wrongdoings of this world. La Clemenza di Tito may have been outdated at the time it was written, but it is without a doubt one of Mozart’s greatest operas. It is musical perfection, from beginning to end, and the opera glories in its recitative sections too, in which many of the protagonists’ universal emotions are expressed.
What a wonderful performance! Bang up to date!
Olivier Keegel (published 6 May 2019)
Next performances: 08.05, 21.05, 26.05, 08.06, 19.06 en 06.07.