The Opéra national de Paris 2005 production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito is very fine. Ironically it’s actually quite a conventional production overall though one scene, the one where Tito makes his first appearance, is so weird that it provides the generic name used in some circles I frequent for an entirely inexplicable production element (see below).
The production, by Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann uses modern, rather stylized, costumes and a large more or less open cube of white space with a few props and some circular cut outs in walls and ceiling that come and go but on the video recording one mostly can’t tell when or why. The direction is mostly straightforward though with many small touches that bring out the characters and the relationships between them. It’s not high Regie but it is modern and very effective. The one exception is the aforementioned scene. We see Tito in a rubber muscle suit. Publio removes this bit by bit and dresses Tito in his emperor outfit. Meanwhile a very gorgeous, rather exotic looking woman; clearly Berenice (who otherwise doesn’t actually appear in the opera) is drawn across the stage in a giant baked potato. At some point she drops a garment or cloth or something which later figures in Servilia’s surrender to Tito’s will. Why the potato? Why the muscle suit? I have no idea. But at least it provides us with the useful term a Berenice’s potato to describe such things in future.
The performances are excellent across the board from both a singing and acting point of view. Catherine Nagelstad’s Vitellia manages not to be bat shit, scenery chewing insane but comes off as devious and quite vicious and credible enough that Susan Graham’s Sesto can be somewhat taken in by her without looking completely daft. Christoph Prégardien’s Tito is conflicted without being sappy (or a bit nuts like Michael Schade’s Salzburg version). The young lovers; Annio (Hannah Esther Minutillo) and Servilia (Ekaterina Siurina) are quite charming and the latter is really touching in her big scene with Tito. Roland Bracht even makes rather more of the potentially rather dull role of Publio than is sometimes the case. It’s quite invidious to single out vocal highlights in such a consistently well sung performance but I have to mention the Servilia/Annio duet Ah perdona al primo affetto. Not only is it some of the most gorgeous music Mozart ever produced but here it’s quite beautifully performed by two young singing actors with great chemistry. In praising the soloists I must not forget to mention the excellent work by conductor Sylvain Camberling and the orchestra and chorus of the Opéra national.
Technically this disk is very good indeed. The 16:9 picture and the DTS sound are about as good as it gets on DVD. The video direction, by Thomas Grimm, could show us more of the stage but it’s not bad and its not distracting. There are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian subtitles. There’s also an hour long documentary called A Masterpiece Revisited. It has a lot to say about the piece but, regrettably, offers few insights into the production.
The more I see La Clemenza di Tito (and I have tickets for three more live performances in the next few months) the more I become convinced that it is a masterpiece worthy to be set aside the more popular works. This recording is a very fine version of it, worthy to be compared with the Salzburg recording with Schade or indeed just about any Mozart opera recording on video that I have seen.