Let me say, right at the beginning, that I absolutely adore this production of Mozart's last opera seria. Some people might find the acting a trifle melodramatic, but I suggest that if you are looking for naturalism, opera seria is not the place to start! Call me a heretic if you like, but I have always preferred Tito to Idomeneo in Mozart's output of opera seria. I know the recitatives (in the original) are long-winded, and probably Sussmayr's, but there is such an abundance of wonderful melody in this work, and a real epic grandeur. Although lacking its humour and more immediate appeal; just like The Magic Flute, Tito is infused with the idealistic spirit of the late enlightenment. The choruses are absolutely heavenly, and the obbligato clarinet element in the beautiful arias 'Parto, ma tu, ben mio' in ActI and Vitellia's great showpiece 'Non piu di fiori' in ActII gives this opera a very 'late Mozart', autumnal feel. Anton Stadler, the basset-horn virtuoso for whom Mozart wrote the famous clarinet concerto, was also the soloist in the first performances of Tito (the two works are exactly contemporaneous, and it shows). The tender duet between Annio and Servilia is beautifully executed here, and was a favourite of the poet Shelley. This reminds us that Tito was very highly regarded in the years immediately after Mozart's death, and not dismissed (even by romantics) as just another old-fashioned opera seria!
Ponnelle was a genius in his own right; a film director of the first rank who chose to focus his considerable talent on films of great opera. The wonderful, atmospheric, photography of the ruins of ancient Rome (and Tivoli) is ample evidence of Ponnelle's skills. There is no attempt at a slavishly accurate recording of a stage performance here. This is a cinematic rendering of opera seria, with many cuts in recitatives, mercifully some might say, and really brings to life what was often regarded (in 1980) as a moribund art form. As a result, La clemenza di Tito is, in Ponnelle's hands and those of his gifted singers, nothing less than a revelation.