La Clemenza di Tito, K621 [Opera seria in two acts; sung in Italian; concert performance]
Tito (Titus Flavius Vespasiamus) Jonas Kaufmann
Vitellia Eva Mei
Servilia Malin Hartelius
Sesto (Sextus) Susan Graham
Annio (Annius) Hana Minutillo
Publio (Publius) Günter Groissböck
Chorus & Orchestra of Zürich Opera
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: 1 May, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
Shortly before this performance it was announced that both Vesselina Kasarova (who was to play Sesto) and Liliana Nikiteanu (Annio) were unwell and unable to perform. And while both are superb artists, the audience was in no way short-changed by their replacements, Susan Graham and Hana Minutillo.
Pietro Metastasio’s libretto had already been set more than 60 times before the poet Caterino Mazzolà revised it for Mozart’s setting. Although the new version was considerably tighter than the original, it still retained a rather static quality, in part due to the underlying didacticism manifested by a plot in which a benevolent Caesar proves that forgiveness creates more loyal subjects than terror. Mozart’s solution to this lack of drama in the text was to utilise accompanied recitative, ensemble pieces and choral interjections to create an underlying ‘musical’ drama.
In this performance, Franz Welser-Möst provided substantial interpretational support to Mozart’s intentions through the use of subtle cadential acceleration, affective accents within the texture of the orchestration and a reliance on natural ‘speech’ patterns in both the recitatives and arias. The orchestra responded to his unambiguous conducting as leaves to the wind, resulting in a highly buoyant and attractive sound that provided ideal support for both chorus and soloists. The use of natural horns and trumpets further added to the pleasing orchestral timbre.
Of the vocal soloists, Susan Graham shone the brightest (though, to be fair, her character has some of the best arias), with her “Parto, ma tu” and “Deh, per questo istante solo” drawing cheers and extended applause from the audience. Not only was she in fine voice, with a rich, even mezzo that projected well, but Graham’s acting abilities ensured her spoken parts and recitatives were as compelling as her arias. Eva Mei, too, was very fine as the (temporarily!) wronged Vitellia – her big aria “Non più di fiori” drawing as much applause as Graham’s equivalents. Jonas Kaufmann’s Tito was absolutely convincing, so relaxed and natural did he seem in the part, and with singing to match. Malin Hartelius was also good in what is the relatively small part of Servilia, however Hana Minutillo’s Annio was a little wooden, particularly in the spoken dialogues. Nothing wrong with the voice, but she didn’t seem as comfortable in the part (which she is currently preparing for Paris Opera) as one might have expected. Günter Groissböck, by contrast, was good in the spoken parts but his voice wasn’t open enough in the recitatives, sounding a little pushed at the top. The chorus complemented rge soloists and orchestra perfectly, with a rich, uniform sound and good balance.
Overall, this was a very satisfying performance of an opera which, although not up there among Mozart’s masterpeices, is still full of some exciting and original music. Zürich Opera managed to capture just the right tone, both musically and dramatically, so that any overt didacticism was well and truly relegated to the background.