Sunday 17 June 2007

Review of La Clemenza di Tito

On Saturday we went to see the revival of La Clemenza di Tito at ENO. Emma Bell (Vitellia) and Paul Nilon (Tito) reappeared from the original cast and were joined by Alice Coote as Sesto.

If anything Bell's Vitellia seemed to be more neurotic and on edge than last time, it was difficult at times to see how Sesto could have loved her. Initially Bell tended to rather gabble her recitative but she settled down and her final great aria was wonderful as ever. Paul Nilon seemed to be in his element as Tito, I have rarely heard him sing as well and he brought a strong streak of sympathetic humanity to the role.

But of course, we had really gone to hear Alice Coote as Sesto. Coote is a very vivid actor but by the side of Bell's Vitellia, Coote's Sesto seemed understated and dignified. Her arias were beautifully sung, but she and conductor Edward Gardner did seem rather inclined to pull them about too much so that the 2nd halves of her arias had a little too much rubato for my inclination. She was well supported by the notable Annio of Anne Marie Gibbons. With Sarah Jane Davies as an attractive Servilia and Andrew Foster Williams as a strong Publio.

On revisting the production I still feel that it is a weakness to take the chorus off stage and put them in the pit. At the end of Act one they were back-stage which meant that the balance was not ideal in the closing ensemble. But more than this, it just feels wrong not having courtiers around Tito. Instead of taking place at a Western Roman court, McVicar seems to have in mind a more oriental court, where the Emperor is just surrounded by intimates and his guards. It works, more or less, but does not feel like the opera that Mozart wrote.

The guards, with their endless routines with long poles, were not as slick in their choreography as last time, which did not help. The recent McVicar productions that I have seen (2 Handel operas) have had a corps of dancers to take your mind of things at the boring moments. I realised that in this production the tai-chi style guards form this role.

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