Review: La Clemenza Di Tito

La Clemenza Di Tito
La Clemenza Di Tito
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Leeds Grand Theatre

La Clemenza is uneven. Written hurriedly to honour a Hapsburg Emperor, it is based on Roman Emperor Titus Vespasian’s legendary clemency, and gives Mozart the opportunity to hector about principles.

It is squeezed into the opera seria form, set piece arias, and no character development. The orchestra is reduced to an accompanying role, but with stunning basset clarinet obbligatos, stunningly played here by Colin Honour. Some arias sound like ideas rejected for Don Giovanni. The Act One march sounds like Mozart taking the mickey, and the Act One finale reminded me of the Furies scene in Gluck’s Orfeo. Four arias are, however, among Mozart’s finest – Sesto’s Deh per questo and Parto, Vitellia’s Non piu di fiori and Annio’s Tu fosti tradito. Do Opera North make this awkward piece work? Against all the odds – yes. Director John Fulljames made wonderful use of Connor Murphy and Finn Ross’s trompe-l’oeil video-projected set and revolving screen. He also worked in some coups de théatre, such as Tito’s climactic declaration “I know all, forgive all and forget all”, the opposite of the Bourbon kings who “learned nothing and forgot nothing” and whose French scion lost his head two years after La Clemenza’s first performance in 1791. But it works mainly because of the fabulous singing of Paul Nilon (Tito), Annemarie Kremer (Vitellia), Fflur Wyn (Servilia) and particularly those magnificent mezzos Kathryn Rudge (Annio) and Helen Lepalaan (Sesto).