Thursday, 6 May 1999

La Clemenza di Tito, (The Mercy of Titus), Opera Australia, May 5, 1999

 La Clemenza di Tito (The Mercy of Titus) 
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 
Libretto by Pietro Metastasio revised by Caterino Tommaso Mazzola 
Opera Australia 
at State Theatre May 5, 10, 13, 15, 1999

 NB This review was published in The Melbourne Times in Aug 1997

Roman Caesars were never known for their clemency. Feeding Christians to the lions was more their style. The Mercy of Titus (La Clemenza di Tito) is, then, an unlikely subject for a story about a Roman Emperor.

Mozart chose to reflect the new tolerance and reason of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment in this, his last-composed opera, (1791) which was based on the play by Metastasio.

Tito Vespasianus  (Anthony Elek) is a kind, generous, trusting and forgiving ruler who is beloved of his people. He seeks a wife and chooses two before finally selecting Vitellia (Rosamund Illing). Vitellia is overcome with venomous rage when she believes herself spurned for the young Servillia (Emma Matthews).

It is Vitellia who embodies all the vile and vengeful tendencies that are absent in Tito. She coerces her adoring, lovesick acolyte, Sesto (Fiona Janes) into starting a rebellion for her and killing his dear friend, Tito. Who needs enemies?

Illing skilfully blends the coquettish, cheeky egotistical Vitellia we see at the beginning with the penitent sinner of the finale. Her lovely and effortless soprano has impeccable control.

Elek's bright-tones tenor provides an appropriately boyish naivete to his portrayal of the sweet natured Tito. His anguish is palpable when faced with this moral dilemma when he realises his friend has betrayed him.

There is a dark irony in Mozart's opera La Clemenza di Tito being about mercy and tolerance when,  in 1791,  itfeatured roles for young men who were castrated at the age of ten. Happily, the roles are now sung by mezzo-sopranos. This creates a whole new world of resonances when women are wrapped in the arms of other women.

Janes as Sesto has the warmth and passion in her mezzo-soprano which is necessary for the role of the fallen friend. This role and that of Annio, (Joslyn Rechter) were played by castrati.

Rechter and Richard Alexander as Publio, are both in fine voice and the State Orchestra of Victoria conducted with energy by Daniel Beckwith, do justice to Mozart's lilting score.

This is not the most memorable of Mozart's operas, but it has some fine musical moment not the least of which is the choral lament for Tito at then end of Act One. The production is based on that of Goran Javerfelt who directed it before his death in 1989. Moffatt Oxenbold has brought it to stage.

It is a very static production and, despite the majestic Roman collonade (Carl Friedriech Oberle), it remains visually dull because of its unimaginative staging..


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