La clemenza di Tito, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; premiered in Prague, 6 September, 1791
Dramma serio in two acts, libretto after Pietro Metastasio by Caterino Mazzola

Performance of Wednesday, 12 February, 2014

New production, premiered 10 February, 2014

Conductor: Kirill Petrenko
Director: Jan Bosse
Set Designer: Stephane Laime
Costumes: Victoria Behr
Lighting: Ingo Bracke
Chorus: Sören Eckhoff
Dramaturg: Miron Hakenbeck

Cast:

Tito Vespasiano: Toby Spence
Vitellia: Kristine Opolais
Sesto: Tara Erraught
Servilla: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Annio: Angela Brower
Publio: Tareq Nazmi

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(Note: Photos are close ups of advertising posters on exterior of opera house)

Act I

Kirill Petrenko opened with a crisp performance of La clemenza di Tito's overture. The production was highly stylized in an electic mix of costumes that represented a couple of different periods: Toby Spence/Tito was dressed in a long white shift (of sorts), topped with a long cape with train - very elegant. Kristine Opolais/Vitellia was costumed in a fancy 18th century manner gown with a wide hooped (probably not a correct fashion term, but gives you the idea) and a high multi-colored wig (Marge Simpson-style). The other principals' costumes similarly represented bits and pieces of different eras.

The plot, typically for Mozart, is a complex tale of unrequited love, jealousy and revenge. Vitellia, the former emperor's daughter, is upset that Tito does not return her affection and plans to marry Berenice, daughter of the king of Judea, so calls upon Sesto (who adores her) to assassinate Tito. When Sesto's friend, Annio, comes to tell Sesto that he has an audience with the emperor, he also tells Sesto that Tito has decided that Berenice will not be his consort, after all. In conveying this to Vitellia, she thinks she may have another shot at filling that role and, therefore, closer to filling her ambition to rule, so she calls off the assassination. During Sesto's audience with Tito, however, Tito tells Sesto he wants to marry his sister, Servilia. Servilia, of course, loves and wants to marry Annio, so the emperor graciously steps aside so Servilia can marry her love. In the meantime, Vitellia is angry all over again, so tells Sesto it is time to assassinate the emperor. The act ends with Sesto setting the capitol on fire - our ampitheater is drenched in red light and smoke rises from the set (and fills the theater..), with our heroes convinced the emperor is dead.

Act II

The emperor, of course, has escaped, but looking out upon the still smoldering set, demands to know who is guilty for the heinous act. Sesto and Vitellia listen to Annio, who tells them they should confess and they can expect clemency from the emperor. Things go back and forth, with Publio trying to convince Tito to punish the conspirators, Annio telling the emperor that the perpetrators should be punished, but that he should consider the case compassionately. When quetioned by Tito, Sesto tries to protect Vitellia, which evasiveness angers Tito to decide Sesto should be executed. Ultimately, the emperor decides the situation calls for clemency and, valuing repentance above loyalty, all is forgiven.

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La clemenza di Tito is a mostly static opera driven by recitative with some lovely, albeit not particularly well-known arias interspersed throughout. To move things along, the set design comprised a number of risers set into a semi-circle, ampitheater style. The singers and chorus navigated the steps to sing their roles from different levels which, together with the elaborate costumes, provided stage interest and a sense of movement. Kristine Opolais had the most challenging time with the set - moving around in that costume would not be for the faint of heart.

Toby Spence possesses a pleasant tenor voice and very capably handled his role without strain the entire evening. Kristine Opolais' Vitellia sang with a something of an edge to her voice. I am still uncertain whether this was due to a higher than was comfortable tessitura, or was for dramatic effect - after all, Vitellia is the furious driving force behind the turmoil in the plot. I had heard Opolais sing Mimi last year, which was gorgeous and perhaps a better match for her voice. Sesto, Tara Erraught, a 25 year old Irish soprano, was the outstanding lead in the night's performance in the trouser role. Sesto sings a lot of the music with the most fireworks, and Erraught sang with expression and beauty - and was rewarded with foot-stomping approval during her curtain call. Also outstanding, I thought, was 31 year old Kuwaiti bass Tareq Nazmi's Publio, who has a wonderful voice and stage presence - and added a comedic touch to his role as Tito's sycophantic aide de camp.

In all, a most enjoyable production and top notch singing by all - including a terrific chorus.