Ex Alden semper aliquot novis

12-13-04-MC-D-814Last 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.

12-13-04-MC-D-1825The 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!

12-13-04-MC-D-1332So 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.

12-13-04-MC-D-2104Daniel 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

6 thoughts on “Ex Alden semper aliquot novis

  1. I had many of the same reactions second time ’round with the mainstage cast (Ensemble cast was terrific though!). Especially blown away by Alkema – she just wasn’t given the opportunity to show her stuff in an under-written role like Giulietta in last season’s Hoffmann. She’s an amazing singer with virtually complete control of her instrument, and the characterization she had developed with Alden was superb. A real tour-de-force and I hope we get to hear her in Toronto again soon. Unfortunately never got to hear Schade due to his unfortunate illness for many of the performances though from what you’re saying, it seems he was best able to perform the role in the way Alden was intending. Leonard’s voice was much warmer and richer than I expected (not sure what I was expecting, but for some reason had pegged her as a much more light, lyric mezzo). Her sound filled the hall, and her understated, yet very focused portrayal was fascinating. Gleadow also made much of a small-ish role – we’ll be seeing him next season in Cosi so will no doubt really get to an idea of what he does with a longer Mozart role (he was a great Figaro for the COC a few seasons back). I have to say, as with Alden’s Rigoletto last season, I appreciated the conception more on a second viewing. Not sure what this means (might be just me!), but in the end, this production was thoughtful, maybe difficult to buy into in its entirety, but nevertheless engaging and fantastically-sung.

    • I agree about Alden’s productions being so dense that one has to see them more than once. On a personal level that’s fine. I’m happy to see them twice! Most people, though, won’t do that and so maybe it’s a bit unfair to the typical opera goer.
      Schade was worth the ticket. His interpretation had a lot in common with his Salzburg Tito but it wasn’t by any means the same. It looked like the ideal blend of an intelligent actor with his own ideas about the character realising a particular director’s concept.
      And yay for seeing more of Gleadow. I missed the Figaro.

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