I have loved Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito for more than fifty years, ever since as a teenage fan of the great Teresa Berganza, I snapped up Decca’s 1967 trail-blazing release of Mozart’s High Classical masterpiece, conducted by Istvan Kertész. Heading a cast of young stars that included Maria Casula, Lucia Popp, Werner Krenn and Brigitte Fassbaender, the great Spanish mezzo put her unforgettable stamp on the opera’s pivotal role of Sesto. Mozart’s once-neglected final opera seria has long since reclaimed its rightful position among the pantheon of his operatic greats, with more than a dozen commercial recordings entering the lists. Deutsche Grammophon’s recent release with Yannick Nézet-Séguin at its helm is both a notable addition of the work’s discography, and to the Canadian conductor’s distinguished Mozart opera series, captured from live concert performances in Baden-Baden. Joyce DiDonato’s searing portrayal of the guilt-wracked Sesto, who plots unsuccessfully to assassinate the Roman Emperor Titus, sets a new bench mark for the role, while Marina Rabeka’s spit-fire Vitellia runs her a close second, both in dramatic commitment and visceral vocality. If Rolando Villazon’s overly emotive take on the opera’s magnanimous title character strays beyond the bounds of performance style appropriate to this repertoire, there is no gainsaying the tenor’s generosity of spirit, or the glamour of his rich vocal palette. Regula Mühlemann, Tara Erraught and Adam Plachetka in the secondary roles of Servilla, Annio and Publio respectively, sustain the high standards set by Maestro Nézet-Séguin. His deeply perceptive reading is wonderfully enhanced by DG’s recording team, who capture the contributions of the soloists, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the RIAS Kammerchor with great dramatic immediacy and sonic clarity. A clear recommendation all round.
Overall, a very good version of this wonderful opera. Joyce DiDonato in perfect , dedicated form. At the beginning I did not recognize the voice of Rolando Villazon, but at the end of the recording - I did. (I believe I have heard that he has been ill). The other women in this version, sadly, could not compete with DiDonato, but very few can.
The latest instalment of Nézet-Séguin’s Mozart cycle – La Clemenza di Tito – is bland like its predecessors. Above all, the rhetorical address of opera seria is missing. In consequence, this flyweight production sounds like an angrier version of Cosi – which is no good thing!
Throughout this endeavour, Rolando Villazón as Tito husbands his voice. He sings “Del più sublime soglio” without inflection or vocal acting; for all I know, he could be warming up for “O Holy Night” Furthermore his “Ah, se fosse intorno al trono” defaults to strained lyricism in its lack of imperiousness. Surprisingly, Joyce DiDonato as Sesto is not the last word in projection even if she’s more than competent in “Parto, ma tu ben mio.” Marina Rebeka as Vitellia has the requisite snarl in her voice but again, she’s chronically underpowered (exhibit one, “Vengo ... aspettate ... Sesto!”). It could be the microphones – maybe. Nothing here predicates a Roman variant of Clytemnestra. Tara Erraught as Annio has a nice lightweight voice. Much the same could be said of Regula Mühlemann Servilia. Adam Plachetka as Publio evokes Theo Adam at times in his wobble . . . . One of my pet-hates – the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – underpins this carbon-neutral affair. Spruce and polite in equal measure, it replaces the marble of K 621 with laminate.
What does this amount to? Answer, not much. It’s inoffensive if nothing else. La Clemenza di Tito succeeds or fails on its big ensembles at the end of each Act. Here, they're fizzers. Look not for the high drama that Sir Colin Davis imparts to both finales Mozart, Vol.44 - La Clemenza di Tito.
But the end is not yet. Two months ago, YNS signed an exclusive contract with DG. What’s on the agenda? Complete cycles of Rachmaninov’s symphonies and piano concertos, with Trifonov and the Philadelphia Orchestra (geez, I can barely sleep); more blandness in his soon-to-be-released Magic Flute (again, with the COE in Toyota Prius mode); Mahler’s Symphony No.8 (alas, not with the COE); Petrushka, the Firebird and finally K 466 with Seong-Jin Cho and the COE (what joy!). Reader, this is Zeitgeist in play. It cannot be resisted or thwarted. For that which we are about to receive may the anachronistic sky-god make us truly grateful!