Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Met Opera Review: Mozart's Clemenza Satisfies with Stellar Cast

By Francisco Salazar
(For 11/20/12 performance)

La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart's last opera, is rarely performed due to its convoluted plot line, difficult roles and most importantly because it is one opera many consider to be one of his weaker works. However for this year's revival the Met has assembled an incredible ensemble of singers both up and comers and superstars.

The opera tells the story of Vitellia who out of rage decides to take revenge on Tito for not choosing her as his wife. Vitellia asks Sesto, who is in love with her to kill Tito. Once Tito discovers the plot he must decide whether to bring the conspirators to death or forgive them.

The opera was first performed at the Met in 1984 in the current Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production and since has been sporadically performed with the last revival in 2008. The Ponnelle production while traditional still holds up quite well with its lavish backdrops, 18th century costumes and its outstanding lighting effects particularly during the Roman fire. The lights flicker at the beginning as if a fire is about to start and then when the quintet at the end of Act 1 climaxes the lighting gives off the effect that there is a real fire occurring. Another interesting effect is during Vitellia's final aria when the light gives off a chiaroscuro effect where she is confused about the right path to take. Overall there is nothing revolutionary about the production but it does well in telling the story without any distractions and allowing the audience to see the performers' raw emotions.

On this night Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti sang the title role of Tito. Filianoti has complete dominance of the character, a confused, noble and likable emperor. When he first goes on stage he is a suffering emperor as he let his fiance Berenice go. Then when he chooses Servilia and finds out that she is not love with him he sings his aria "Ah, se fosse intorno al trono" with joy because he honors Servilia's honesty. When he must choose whether or not to kill Sesto, Filianoti's anguish comes out with his delicacy in his phrasing but also with anger. Vocally Filianoti sounded comfortable for the most part singing each aria with exquisite phrases and beautiful crescendos and diminuendos. Only in his coloratura passage's particularly his aria "Se All'Impero" did he sound a bit overwhelmed. But I don't fault him for this as Mozart's music is particularly difficult asking his singers to pull a high B Flat while singing the extremely difficult roulades. Still Filianoti's performance is solid and it will be exciting to see him as Ruggero in La Rondine in a completely different musical style.

As Sesto the hopeless lover, Latvian superstar Elina Garanca was returning to the Met after giving birth to her daughter. The Met put all its hopes on Garanca to sell the house and while the house was not sold out, Garanca pulled off her first pants role with beauty, delicacy and perfection. Over the last few years Garanca has been called a cold and icy singer by the critics and while it is hard to tell with Mozart, Garanca's performance was full of emotion and despair. In the opening of the opera where Sesto is trying to get a loving glance from Vitellia, Garanca followed Frittoli's Vitellia around the stage attempting to get her attention. Towards the end of the first act during the recitative "Oh Dei, che smania e queta" where Sesto is hesitant to kill Tito, Garanca brought anguish and confusion as she kneeled down center stage looking towards the Rome palaces. Other highlights included her first aria "Parto Parto. She sang first part with intensity as well as tenderness. And in her cabaletta section of the aria she brought a heroic quality to it dispatching her coloratura runs with perfection. In her second aria "Deh, per questo istante solo" Garanca sang with incredible pianissimos and delivered the nostalgia that Mozart's music presents. As she lied down on the floor next to Filianoti's Tito, Garanca's voice carried Sesto's suffering for having conspired against his great friend. It's a shame that Garanca has decided to retire this role after these performances because it is truly one of her most inspiring roles.

As Vitellia, Barbara Frittoli brought a coquettish, and demonic side as well as one of confusion and torment. When she opens the opera Frittoli used her charm and flirtatious qualities as a means of luring Sesto to kill Tito. Then after she discovers that Tito has decided to marry Servilia Frittoli was no longer a flirt she was a woman of anger and authority. During Sesto's "Parto Parto", Frittoli stood downstage center imposing her presence and showing that she was the one in power even though she did not sing a word. Then her emotion's changed at the end of the second act where she has to sing her second aria "Non Piu Fiori" which demonstrated her confusion, frustration and torment. Frittoli lied on the floor as if she was going mad but then when she realizes what she must do Frittoli took a bold move and sang a part of her aria facing away from the audience. Musically Frittoli was marvelous. She dispatched her first aria with ease but it was her trio and her second aria that made Frittoli's performance memorable. During the act one trio " Vengo ...Aspettare," Frittoli sang her high notes with power and each phrase was that of a tormented woman as they were never legato and instead gave a choppy quality that demonstrated that this was not the same controlling figure from the a scene before. Her second aria showed off Frittoli's powerful low register including a low G. Her high register and her flexible coloratura were also displayed in this passionate rendition.

In the minor character's Kate Lindsey as Annio and Lucy Crow as Servilia brought some of the best moments of the nights. Kate Lindsey in her aria "Tu Fosi Tradito", sang with agility and warmth. Her characterization in the pants role was completely believable as she brought a youthful quality to the stage. Lucy Crowe in her aria "s'altro che lagrime" brought the purity required for the role of the innocent girl. In their duet when Servilia and Annio depart in the first act  "Ah, perdona i primo affetto," both voices meshed well and brought the most heartbreaking moment of the night. In the other minor role Oren Gradus sang his aria with a robust voice.

In the pit Harry Bicket brought out a barque like sound from the orchestra that emphasized the rhythmic precision in Mozart's music. The Continuo accompaniment led by harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire, and cellist David Heiss was at times hard to get used to but their playing propelled the action. Clarinet Soloist Anthony McGill stood out during "Parto Parto" playing along Garanca. His playing made it seem as if he was in a duet with her and not accompanying.

Overall this was a satisfying night and one that should not be missed as it features a stellar cast and some of Mozart's finest music.

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