La Clemenza di Tito, Salzburg and Copenhagen

Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito is one of my favourite operas, and I won’t dismiss that this is due to two masterpiece productions: Martin Kusej’s Salzburg staging and David McVicar’s Copenhagen/ENO staging.
Both stagins have weak and very troubled Titos and the Salzburg version even makes him mad. This leaves the stage open for strong performances among the rest of the characters not least for the couple Vitellia/Sesto who are also from Mozart’s hand left with the most beautiful music of the opera.

I witnessed Kusej’s staging in Salzburg in 2003, and luckily the performance was recorded which made it possible for me to see it again. It is also part of the Mozart22 box set. The cast is an all star team: Michael Schade in the title role; Vesselina Kasarova as Sesto; Dorothea Röschmann as Vitellia; Elina Garanca as Annio, Barbara Bonney as Servilia and Luca Pisaroni as Publio. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Wiener Staatsopernchor.

Michael Schade makes an excellent performance as the pained and maddening emperor who looses all because he has the power. I have rarely seen a more perfect portrayal of madness. Any Ophelia would be envious.
Vesselina Kasarova is just plain amazing. Her voice is wonderful and she is convincing as the impassioned Sesto who is forced by his love and his libido to turn against his best friend. I shall not soon forget her “Parto, parto”.
Dorothea Röschmann is perfect as the power loving Vitellia, and her desperation at the end of the opera is real and anguishing. That must after all be a hard turn to make believable. Besides, I am a great fan of her heavy voice.

A strong undergoing trend in the staging is gender playing. And not only because two of the couples are made solely out of women. The costumes of the women playing men are suits that rather effectively make them into men. And the men, Tito and Publio, wear large skirts when they are in public.
The heavy sexual interaction between Sesto and Vitellia gives the gender play a rather homosexual touch (suit or not…Kasarova has the most beautiful mezzo voice) enforced by Publio’s hinted love for Tito.

Kasarova, Röschmann. Sesto, Vitellia

That kind of interpretation is absent from David McVicar’s staging. It focuses solely, and effectively, on the mechanisms of power and the friendship between Sesto and Tito. (Elements far from absent in the Salzburg version). Michael Kristensen in the title role did a remarkable performance, and in my eyes this was his true breakthrough as an important tenor in the ensemble of the Royal Danish Opera. From then on he has continued to amaze me. Another great performance was Ylva Kihlberg as the absolutely furious Vitellia. Also a key part for her.

I especially remember the staging for it’s wonderful scenography and costumes. Very simple, beautiful and compact.

Ylva Kihlberg, Vitellia
Ylva Kihlberg as Vitellia at the Royal Danish Opera.

It has been a couple of years since I saw this staging, but it is revived in the end of February. Looking very much forward to that. Not least since my favourite orchestra Concerto Copenhagen is in the pit, as usual conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen.

/anna

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February 1, 2007. Music, Opera, Reviews.

2 Comments

  1. Paul replied:

    Hi,

    Yes, I saw La Clemenza Di Tito last night at the Royal Theatre and thought it was a wonderful staging. The starkness and simplicity of the sets and the smooth transformations used to change mood and setting were really effective.

    However I thought the voices were a bit weak, apart from Ylva Kilberg (back to her Donna Elvira manic form 🙂 ) and the character to Titus himself came across as weak beyond measure and with no real explanation of why he was like that.

    I do have a question though – could you tell me a bit about Concerto Copenhagen ? It looked like they were playing on period instruments – I saw some very odd ones in the pit. Are they an orchestra devoted to baroque and classical in original form and technique ? They were also VERY good last night.

    /paul

  2. confidentialattachees replied:

    Hi Paul,

    Concerto Copenhagen is indeed a period orchestra. The leading one of its kind in Denmark and perhaps in all of Scandinavia. Their leader is harpsichord player Lars Ulrik Mortensen who has worked wonders with the ensemble.
    They all play on period instruments and perform in a very free form where all musicians take responsibility. Much like chamber musicians would do just added some improvisational spirit. And yes they play mostly baroque music and music from the 18th century.
    I think the orchestra was world class in Titus and as you I felt that the singers weren’t really up to it. When CoCo and the chorus were on their own that was just marvellous.
    I have for some time now been thinking about writing an ode to CoCo and Lars Ulrik Mortensen. They are after all my favourite ensemble. Will do, will do!

    To see more on CoCo look here: http://www.coco.dk.

    /anna

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