This recording of Mozart's La Clemenza, recorded in 2003 at the Salzburg Festival is, to my mind, a successful production although there are clearly some challenging aspects as regards the updating decisions which will not appeal to all viewers.
The production is largely in modern dress with the exception of Titus who is attired in a flowing skirt-like item for much of the time. The scenery essentially makes use of the theatre building to create a series of separate chambers or rooms in which the action between the cast members takes place. The props can only described as minimalist and Spartan - nothing approaching any form of luxury or social advantage that one might expect of a ruler and his associates. The chorus makes its first entrance as modern tourists with Titus appearing to be an exhibited model who then springs to life and addresses his subjects. At the beginning and at the end a large number of these cubicles is peopled with a young coy in each dressed in just his underwear pants, the significance escaped me. This is the only part of the production that causes me any unease.
Moving on to the singing the considerations are much easier to deal with as this is a uniformly top quality cast of young singer/actors who all fulfil their sung and dramatic roles to perfection in my opinion. In the course of the opera the full gamut of intended emotional expression is fully met and matters of conflicting loyalties, and considerations of offices of power and how those responsibilities can conflict with personal relationships is fully and powerfully met. Michael Schade makes an excellent Titus as he struggles with his various dilemmas and in this he is equally matched by Vesselina Kasarova as the equally compromised Sesto. She is good at trouser roles. Elina Garanca is a convincing Annio, also a trouser role and Dorothea Roschmann portrays the ambitious and jealously driven Vitellia. Both Publio and Servilia are well delivered in their lesser roles by Luca Pisaroni and Barbara Bonney respectively.
The Vienna Philharmonic are on good form and produce glorious playing of power and bite under the firm guidance of Nicholas Harnoncourt who makes sure of the dramatic drive.
The camera work is very good and provides imaging of fine detail and colour definition. The sound is well-balanced, full-toned and of impressive presence. It is presented in DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 and in stereo options.
This essentially seems to be an attempt to portray this drama as a timeless exploration of power, conflict, corruption and ultimate clemency and is, to my mind, very successful. This is in spite of my reservations about certain aspects of the production as described above. In my opinion the very sparseness adds to the concentration of the drama and the fine musical and dramatic values maintained throughout at all levels manage to overcome those doubts. It has given me increasing satisfaction each time I have watched it and has significantly increased my admiration and love of this late work of Mozart which I would now rank as one of his finest achievements.
For those who consider musical and dramatic delivery as the priority over production issues this may well prove to be especially rewarding and well worth a 5 star rating. This would be my personal verdict but bearing in mind production issues as described above I feel that 4 stars may well be more appropriate for most interested purchasers.
Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:
I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)
I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)
I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Thank you (UK review)
I'd also add to this. When you in particular review a particular CD, I pay pretty close attention. I would say the characteristics of your reviews I value the most are the detail and general sense of balance and fairness that comes across. That's a great help. Thanks for taking the time on your reviews. (US review)