La Clemenza di Tito review – delight to be back, but modern-dress production fails to convince

Royal Opera House, London
Richard Jones’s eagerly-anticipated new production of Mozart’s opera seria has moments of insight but overall too many incongruities, but there is much to enjoy musically, especially Nicole Chevalier’s Vitellia

The Royal Opera has been the first of the UK companies to take advantage of the easing of lockdown, opening its new production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito on the very day that audiences were permitted to return to theatres. The atmosphere on the first night, inevitably, was one of great anticipation, and the spontaneous applause that greeted the orchestra as it tuned was indication of the delight and relief to be back in the Opera House at long last. Whether the new Clemenza itself lives up to expectations, however, is an altogether different matter.

Conducted by Mark Wigglesworth and directed by Richard Jones, it’s an ill-focused modern-dress affair that reimagines Mozart’s examination of the moral and emotional burdens of absolute monarchy in terms of late-20th- and early-21st-century presidential or prime ministerial power-brokering. Rome has become a xenophobic hell-hole, where cynical senators attempt to undermine imperial authority and Emily D’Angelo’s naive, laddish Sesto is disastrously in thrall to Nicole Chevalier’s uptight, power-dressing Vitellia.

Jeremy White (senator), Nicole Chevalier (Vitellia); Joshua Bloom (Publio); George Freeburn (senator); and Emily D’Angelo (Sesto) in La Clemenza di Tito at the Royal Opera House
Jeremy White (senator), Nicole Chevalier (Vitellia); Joshua Bloom (Publio); George Freeburn (senator); and Emily D’Angelo (Sesto) in La Clemenza di Tito at the Royal Opera House Photograph: Clive Barda

Jones can sometimes be insightful: the fierce act two confrontation between Sesto and Edgaras Montvidas’s Tito, for instance, is incredibly strong. But elsewhere there are too many incongruities and inconsistencies of tone. Sesto is a footballer, for some reason, while Christina Gansch’s Servilia presides over what looks like a delicatessen, stocked with jars of pasta and bottled fruit. Jones frequently sees neurosis where Mozart envisions tragedy, and moral agony drives Vitellia to a complete breakdown in Non Più Di Fiori, where the music instead suggests dignity, unhappiness and profound regret.

For the most part, it’s decently done. Chevalier is a superb Vitellia, unfailingly accurate and unfazed by the immense (nearly three octaves) span of the vocal line, while Montvidas vividly and tellingly captures the anger and anguish that lurk beneath Tito’s benevolent idealism. D’Angelo’s Sesto is cleanly sung, her metallic tone sharply contrasted with the altogether warmer voice of Angela Brower’s Annio, leaving me wondering whether each mezzo might have been better cast in the other’s role. Gansch is a more assertive Servilia than most, and Joshua Bloom, as Publio, does much with the little Mozart gives him. Wigglesworth’s conducting, meanwhile, is austere and incisive, though he could sometimes propel the accompanied recitatives onwards with more urgency. Playing and choral singing, the latter sadly off stage, are both beautiful.

• La Clemenza di Tito is at the Royal Opera House, London, until 23 May. The performance on 21 May will be livestreamed (£) on stream.roh.org.uk.


Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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