Last night saw the final performance of the COC’s run of La clemenza di Tito. I had seen the Ensemble Studio performance a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it but had some questions and reservations about the production. Last night many of those issues were resolved. It seemed more closely directed and the characterizations were more fully rehearsed. A good example of this would be Michael Schade’s intensely neurotic Tito which was central to the concept. Many things make sense if one sees Tito as being in love with an idea of himself. In this context his betrayal by Sesto is particularly hurtful because it implies that his closest confidante isn’t buying it and his “clemency” is necessary to restore his faith in his own self-projection. This Tito gives Robert Gleadow’s Publio space and reason to be more than the dutiful, rather thick plod. He’s the one who has seen through Tito but must “play the game”. His final, rather sharp, exchanges with Vitellia suggest a genuine capacity for malevolence. This is, after all, an Imperial Court, where by definition life is dangerous and nothing what it seems.
The relationship between Wallis Giunta’s Annio and Mireille Asselin’s Servilia too was more developed and believable. This is crucial to the piece because it’s the one straightforward, wholesome relationship in the piece. Sure, there’s still the valley girl nerdiness of Annio but here the comic elements didn’t seem overdone and just fitted in well to a production which refuses to take itself too seriously. Last but not least we have Keri Alkema’s Vitellia. It was a very different characterization from Ambur Braid’s chilling take on the part. Alkema’s Vitellia comes off as a woman of a certain age who is basically amoral, knows what she wants and really doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. She’d be a model corporate CEO. Her manipulation of Isabel Leonard’s sensitively characterized Sesto is utterly believable. So too, is her reconciliation with Tito. We realise, at the last, that these two really are soul mates. So, if as I suspect, Christopher Alden is suggesting that Mozart was being less than sincere in writing a “praise song” for Leopold II in opera seria form I think he succeeds. In deconstructing the work and bringing out the essential lack of sincerity about royalty and power while preserving the beautiful, human and deeply touching elements of the work I believe he does Mozart and the audience a great service. Well might Michael Schade throw his Imperial laurels to the audience during the curtain call!
So how about the music? Well, the singing was terrific across the board. Every one of the big display arias that are studded through the piece came off beautifully. It’s just so tempting here to run off a series of platitudinous clichés because it was so what one expected in the the right way. Schade was supremely stylish, Alkema managed the fierce runs of her big numbers with no trace of strain (and plenty of room to act) and Leonard was just all around superb. Gleadow left me wanting to hear him in a much bigger part. I keep hearing him in relatively small roles and I’m always left wanting more. To top this off we had Wallis Giunta singing beautifully and with more heft than I’ve heard from her before and a lovely lyrical contribution from Mireille. Think about it, half the cast were or are members of the Ensemble Studio and all three are not yet thirty. This company produces fine singers.
Daniel Cohen’s musical direction is something I’m still not sure about. Generally he took things pretty fast but there are long pauses (this might be Alden’s doing) and there were times when singers and orchestra are not absolutely in synch. I think it was deliberate. For example, in Ah perdona he seemed to be allowing the singers some metrical flexibility while keeping the orchestra much more rigidly to the beat. It didn’t sound sloppy but it was a bit disconcerting. Ultimately I’m not sure what to think of it.
All in all though a very enjoyable evening and a performance that was enthusiastically received by an almost full house.
Photo Credits: Michael Cooper