, 15 August 2007
Joel Kasow
Franz Welser-Möst: MOZART La clemenza di Tito on EMI
Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito has never achieved the renown accorded to the da Ponte operas or Zauberflöte , but it is no longer relegated to the neglect that prevailed 30 years ago. Recent releases on CD and DVD indicate that Tito has now attained the status it deserves as a major work. In this DVD of a live performance from the Zürich Opera House, the secco recitatives (composed not by Mozart but by an assistant) are replaced by spoken dialogue, not the happiest of solutions, with only the composer’s accompanied recitatives remaining. Jonas Kaufmann in the title role is heroic, anguished, introspective—everything we might want in a Tito; but the shifts from speech to song sound strangely artificial. Vesselina Kasarova’s Sesto shows the singer on her best form, though the facial contortions occasionally distract from the meaning of the text. Liliana Nikiteanu’s Annio (she usually sings Sesto) has little difficulty with the high tessitura of her role (unlike the hybrid tessituras with which Sesto and Vitellia have to contend), while Malin Hartelius shows that Servilia may not have much to do but her little aria is given its gem-like due. Eva Mei is stretched vocally and dramatically by the role of Vitellia, lacking the vituperative quality that is so much a part of her character and that were so clearly evoked in the theater by Janet Baker and Janet Coster, mezzos who had no difficulty, simply omitting the high D that many (mistakenly) regard as defining the role. Franz Welser-Möst occasionally drags out a tempo, but he generally gets it right. Jonathan Miller’s production in Isabella Bywater’s Mussolini-era costumes is effective, and Bywater demonstrates that the 1930s do not necessarily translate as ugly. The camerawork is occasionally restless, and the focus not where we might wish.

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