La Clemenza di Tito – review

Grand theatre, Leeds

La Clemenza di Tito has never quite escaped its status as the least loved of Mozart's mature operas. Commissioned to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II as king of Bohemia in 1791, it is often seen as a throwback to the pious imperatives of opera seria, written in a tearing hurry by an exhausted composer who would rather be working on The Magic Flute.

Yet any notion that La Clemenza is a bloodless creation is put to rest at the climax of John Fulljames's Opera North production, in which Annemarie Kremer's ravishingly sung Vitellia, a vindictive firebrand with lava-coloured hair, picks up a shard of glass from the riot she has instigated and calmly disfigures herself while lamenting that she might have blown her chance of becoming empress.

It may sound extreme, yet for the most part Fulljames's production is, like Mozart's music, a model of elegant restraint. The sharp angles and smoked glass of Conor Murphy's design give the Roman senate the aspect of a seminar room in a boutique hotel, which makes it all the more alarming to witness how quickly the relationships dissolve into a melee of conspiracy and opportunism.

Paul Nilon's thrillingly sung Tito does not appear to have a forgiving nature. Each repeated act of compassion is wrung out of him at such personal cost that he seems half-crazed by the expedience of empire. It speaks volumes for the integrity of Helen Lepalaan's performance as the reluctant conspirator Sesto that the banal subtitling of her predicament – "I never knew it would be so difficult to be a villain" – raises not so much as a titter.

Douglas Boyd's conducting strikes a fine balance between urgency and restraint, while Colin Honour's basset clarinet is such a central part of the action that he is deservedly brought out for a solo bow.

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Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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