Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Mozart - La Clemenza di Tito (Glyndebourne, 2017)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - La Clemenza di Tito

Glyndebourne, 2017

Robin Ticciati, Claus Guth, Richard Croft, Alice Coote, Anna Stéphany, Michèle Losier, Clive Bayley, Joélle Harvey

Glyndebourne online - 3 August 2017

It seems to be the case that the success of a production of one of Mozart's opera seria works depends very much on how well it balances of all its different crucial elements. Mozart's music speaks for itself and in La Clemenza di Tito it's of a rare beauty and perfection; almost too beautiful for the nature of the turmoil and sentiments of the work, until you realise at the conclusion that this sense of order and reconciliation is precisely the point of the opera. The spoken dialogue in Mozart's work however is rarely given a consideration commensurate with the kind of attention to detail that is applied to the music.

In the past it's often been a case of cutting or rushing through the long stretches of recitative or spoken dialogue in Mozart operas to get back to the music. Christof Loy however demonstrated in an uncut Die Entführung aus dem Serail was how a work could be transformed when a director gave equal consideration to the mood and meaning of the spoken drama passages and had capable performers with good acting skills to deliver them. When both music and drama were given this kind of attention, there can be a remarkable synthesis between words and music, staging and performance, showing that Mozart's operas are more than just a collection of pretty tunes.

Robin Ticciati's conducting of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the 2017 Glyndebourne production certainly demonstrates that there is more to the music than pretty tunes. He picks out the gorgeous detail of the composition and structure, highlighting the sonority of individual instruments and how they combine with the drama and sentiments of the work itself. Director Claus Guth characteristically looks beneath the surface and presents contrasting sides of the conflicted personalities involved in the opera's drama, but it's in how they give expression to the flaws in their nature - in the spoken sections as much as in the singing - that their humanity combines with Mozart's music to create a beautiful whole.

And when you see this opera done so well, its qualities as a complete opera are all the more evident. La Clemenza di Tito is more than a typical opera of expositional dialogue followed by static arias of love and anguish. The opera has some measure of dramatic interaction and action, but more importantly it has real human sentiments rather than generic interchangeable ones that drive these actions and give the arias a real sense of heartfelt meaning. In Mozart's hands, La Clemenza di Tito is more than a musical exercise and more than just a plot to hang some pretty arias off.

Here Tito's actions do not feel arbitrary or cruel. They reflect the real difficulties of ruling and trying to please everyone. Ruling it seems is not just a case of having your cake and eating it. We recognise Tito's wisdom in this matter early on when Servilia tells the emperor that her heart belongs to Annio but she is willing to submit to his will, and Tito renounces his intention to marry her. Likewise, when the cake offered is potentially poisonous, metaphorically speaking, as when Publio offers him a list of known political agitators who have been outspoken about the regime, Tito refuses to take any action against them. He certainly doesn't send in the riot police.

But a ruler is only as informed as his advisors allow him to be and only if his subjects are willing to speak without fear of retribution. Willingness to learn and forgive is all a part of La Clemenza di Tito and that's a characteristic that perhaps seems a little more idealistic when applied to the reality we know. And yet how attractive a proposition Mozart makes this seem. La Clemenza di Tito might appear unrealistic and naive in its treatment of the realities of politics and human nature, but the primary purpose of the opera is not to show a mirror to reality, but rather to show the potential of human nature and the rewards that we can strive to attain.

Claus Guth's production for Glyndebourne 2017 uses a split-level set design by Christian Schmidt to show to separation of the reality and the ideal and the conflict that lies between them. Guth recognises that the divisions are not as obvious as you might think, particularly in Mozart's view, where feelings of love and revenge can lie on the same side and are contrasted rather with duty and social/regal expectations that can blind one from seeing the truth. Guth also suggests a division between the spoken articulated word on one level and deeper sentiments and forces that drive one underneath. I'm not sure why Guth chooses to show the lower level as some kind of swamp, but there is a sense of seeking the truth in a more simple way of life, away from the duties of office.

What is also interesting about La Clemenza di Tito is that it's a work where, depending on the production, different figures can emerge as the key player, each expressing this split in nature versus behaviour. In some productions Sesto takes prominence as the character most prone to action and reaction. In others a forceful Vitellia can be the manipulator who provokes the troubles and then comes to regret her actions. It all very much depends on the strength of the direction of the performers, and while Anna Stéphany and Alice Coote are both excellent as Sesto and Vitellia in this production, it's Richard Croft's lyrical and sensitively performed Tito who emerges as a figure of real personality and character, showing genuine human concern for the role of a ruler and the anguish over the difficulties it involves.

Attention to the recitative is important, being able to get across the human feelings behind the words is vital, and Guth's direction forges a strong connection with Mozart's music as it is conducted by Robin Ticciati. Guth also has recourse to projections that hark back to simpler times, showing Tito and Sesto as children, but whether this is necessary or not, it provides another layer that fits in with all the other elements and gets to the human heart of Mozart's great final opera.

Links: Glyndebourne