Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
BBC Prom 59. Royal Albert Hall. 28 August 2017
The tradition of bringing one of the season’s Glyndebourne Festival Opera productions to the Proms continued this year with their version of Mozart’s often overlooked opera La Clemenza di Tito. Although I didn’t see the fully staged version at Glyndebourne, I did see the live webcast of the performance, and my feelings about the much-reduced staging in the Albert Hall is influenced by that.
Director Claus Guth and designer Christian Schmidt’s Glyndebourne staging divided the world of Tito into two, a clean modernist upper floor executive office positioned above a reed-clogged swamp where much of the action took place. A video played during the overture (or didn’t, depending on which performance you saw) which explained, apparently, the director’s interpretation of why Tito relationship with his boyhood chum Sextus went sour. The transfer to the Proms retained the dual levels, but with Tito’s domain behind the orchestra on the upper steps of the stage, the swamp rather pathetically alluded to by about half a dozen clumps of reeds and a rock on the stage in front of the orchestra. But, as is so often the case with semi-staged or concert performances of opera, this rather helpfully pulled the opera away from being the inspiration of the director towards being that of Mozart.
Whereas at Glyndebourne, the two parts of the stage were vertically aligned above each other, in the Royal Albery Hall there was a large distance between the front and back of the staging. Acoustically there were also inevitable issues with the fact that singers voices are directional, meaning that when singers face away from a section of the audience, their volume dropped dramatically. Listeners on the radio, or on iPlayer, got a far better sense of balance.
Production and staging issues aside, the production retained the high vocal and orchestral excellence of the broadcast Glyndebourne performance. Alice Coote was a powerful Vitellia, the on/off future wife of Richard Croft’s Titus. Ann Stéphany was outstanding in the trouser role of Sextus. She was closely matched by the similarly-clad Michèle Losier in the role of Annius, and her romantic partner Joélle Harvey as Servilia. Their Act 1 duet Ah, perdona, was the musical highlight of the evening, and is also one of Mozart’s operatic highlights.
The Glyndebourne chorus singers had far too much vibrato for any sense of consistency and cohesion. There were also given bizarre hand gestures to cope with, a mannered directorial eccentricity which I just don’t get. Titus’s rejected lover Berenice was portrayed leaving the court with her suitcase by a colourfully clad actress during the chorus Serbate, oh Dei custodi. She spent some time later in the opera sitting in the darkness at the back of the stage, for no apparent reason. The conductor was Robin Ticciati, bringing an infectious enthusiasm to the performance. The continuo group of Ashok Gupta and Luise Buchberger were positioned to one side of the orchestra, no doubt so that they could see the entire acting area. Not surprisingly, they were a little quiet.