Review: La Clemenza di Tito, English Touring Opera, Snape, April 16

Clemenza has not always had an easy press and Mozart has often been criticized for using an out-of date form and text for one of his few opera seria. In a thoughtful and perceptive programme note director James Conway tackles some of the popular criticisms head on, particularly the issue of its being a ‘static’ opera. Even if the work does not rival ‘Figaro’ or the ‘Flute’ in terms of popularity or memorable tunes it is a powerful work, with some fine music in which profound and universal matters are addressed.

Conway’s production focused clearly on the central issues of authority, betrayal and love and the protagonists convincingly wrestled with their dilemmas. Although the libretto is based on episodes from the life of the Roman Emperor Titus Vespasianus and the basic set corresponded with that era, the costumes suggested Europe in the 20’s or 30’s – a neat way of emphasizing the enduring nature of the issues. Mark Wilde initially looked more disposed to ruthlessness than clemency but his performance grew in stature and conviction as the evening progressed.

Gillian Ramm carried complete conviction as the scheming Vitellia who uses the lovelorn Sextus for her own ruthless ends until she finally cracks under the weight of her own guilt. She had a strong, clear delivery, hit the high notes well and manipulated poor Sextus remorselessly. Sextus himself (well, herself) was splendidly played by Julia Riley with a bright, engaging voice and the extended agonizing with Titus maintained the tension well although one could not help feeling that Mozart could have cut a few minutes here. Charlotte Stephenson, Rhona McKail and Philip Spendley all made sharply characterized and precisely delivered contributions.

The production was excellent and the convincing aftermath of a major fire and some serious engineering with a large statue of Titus added to the impact of this lesser heard but eminently worthwhile work.

Gareth Jones

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