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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, September 2010

This 1991 Glyndebourne/BBC-TV production of La Clemenza di Tito was previously issued in 2001, by Image Entertainment. Presumably the rights have passed now to Arthaus Musik, but the recent death of Philip Langridge no doubt played a part in its reappearance, as well. Whatever the reason, this release provides another opportunity to become acquainted with one of the most distinguished versions of this opera available. It benefits singularly from a Glyndebourne commission to Stephen Oliver, who rewrote Süssmayr’s recitatives. The replacements are far superior to the originals, while remaining stylistically close to Mozart.

The cast is strong all around. Langridge is the most believable Tito on DVD, bringing a broad range of facial expression and an ease of physical movement to the part. As a singer, he possesses an attractive and well-supported tone, a gift for cantabile, and a theatrical expressiveness that doesn’t stop when the arias begin. He’s not completely at ease with the fireworks of “Se all’impero, amici Dei,” but gets all the notes right. Ashley Putnam has the vocal depths as well as the heights for her role, including a protean theatricality that allows her to cajole, plead, command, hate, or love, and swiftly move among these emotions as Vitellia’s scheming demands. Her facial interpretation of the final rondo is unique in my experience, in that this most manipulative of Mozart’s characters, so keen in her observations of others, displays ironic amusement in her own self-inflected misery. Diana Montague and Martine Mahé are excellent, with Elzbieta Szmytka’s voice possessing a limpid delicacy that sets it off nicely from the others. Peter Rose’s dark, admirably focused bass makes an excellent blend in ensembles. “Se al volto mai ti senti” in particular really does sound like a well-anchored trio, rather than a duet with a bass drawn from the chorus. Davis conducts competently, if without especial spirit or insight.

The costuming is stylized Roman: textured breastplates and flowing skirts for Sesto, Annio, and the soldiers; togas for Tito and Publio; a stylized, alluring toga rather than a more typically feminine combination of stola and palla for Vitellia, presumably to emphasize her more assertive personality. Nicholas Hytner’s handling of movement and blocking is excellent, but the set design is unsubtle. There’s no misunderstanding the purpose behind the sloped floors, the crooked doorways, and the fragmented bits of Roman and 18th-century reconstructed Roman terracotta, paintings, etc, on the back wall: Tito’s Rome is askew, as though we couldn’t guess this from the libretto. Rather less comprehensible is the white UFO on stage with staircase that leads up to Tito’s private quarters. Are we to infer that the Roman leader’s inhuman mercy was a product of extraterrestrial origin?

The camerawork (filmed on stage, but not before a live audience) is excellent, with good establishing long shots, and plenty of angles to bring various configurations of performers into view. Sound is available in PCM stereo only, with a 4:3 picture format, and subtitles in English, German, Italian, French, and Spanish.




Ralph V Lucano
American Record Guide, July 2010

All the singers are intense, communicative actors. Ashley Putnam (too little represented on records) is a spellbinding Vitellia, despite a few raw vocal patches. She has the range and flexibility for the part, and her face and body language are so expressive you’re riveted to her every move. The late Philip Langridge also knows what to do with his face, and he sings with authority and crispness, though the voice is on the dry side. Montague’s Sextus has the requisite agility, and her air of perpetual anguish is quite affecting. Martine Mahe makes a handsome, smoothly sung Annius and Peter Rose a sturdy Publius. Szmytka is a pretty, blonde Servilia, and her voice has a nice gleam on top.

Davis conducts strongly and manages to underscore the singers’ words without driving the music too hard. Stephen Oliver was commissioned by Glyndebourne to write new secco recitatives to replace the originals, which Mozart, for want of time, consigned to the efficient Süssmayr. Mr Oliver’s replacements are reasonably close to the proper style, and they’re better at letting stresses fall on important words. The singers deliver them with real zest, but perhaps Davis and director Nicholas Hytner might have shortened them a little— it’s hard to imagine any opera seria listener wishing a performance had more dry recitative. Still, the cast brings it off, and my attention never flagged.

Excellent sound and picture. There’s no applause or audience noise whatsoever— maybe the film was made at a rehearsal. The booklet has helpful notes.



Valmont
Parterre Box, May 2010

To be, or not to be? This is the question. But for the producers of opera on DVD, the question is really, to be an opera or to be a film. The producers of the 1991 DVD of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito as produced by Glyndebourne that same year seemed to have been sitting on the fence for this decision . Despite strong performances from much of the cast, the experience is mostly unfulfilling due to confusing and almost claustrophobic presentation.

This production, which was highly regarded during its run with Glyndebourne, features the recently late but long time great Philip Langridge as Tito. His plaintive tone would be odd for any other Caeser, but as Tito the sadness and conflict in his tone, supported by his outstanding musicianship and dramatic ability, make for a very human Absolute Ruler. You feel his conflict and pain when he confronts his dear friend Sesto for his attempted murder, yet Mr. Langridge still finds a way to summon some regal fury when he needs it. Combined with his deft use of recitative, he creates a very memorable and endearing Tito.

Ashley Putnam performs a wonderful Vitellia, but with a strikingly different approach than Mr. Langridge. Whether considered or not, Ms. Putnam play to the cameras wonderfully, relying on wonderful yet subtle elements to create a superb characterization of the spurned princess. In the first act, the clarity of her manipulation is presented not by grand gestures, but instead by sexy little looks and coy touching of Sesto. Her eyes tell a fascinating story throughout, especially in her visciously difficult rondo, “Non piu di fiori…” She adroitly handles the frequent excursions well below the staff that Vitellia has to deal with far too often, but her higher register can lose some of the core of her sound that makes the rest of her singing so powerful.

As the sad sack patrician Sesto, Diana Montague ably creates something out of the rather easily manipulated young man. Many a mezzo has failed to showcase the real conflict in this character, love versus, well, everything else, but Ms. Montague really nurtures Sesto’s impossible choice in her singing. Her graceful and beautiful singing, coupled with the long legato phrases that Sesto’s well known arias need and deserve, make for a very satisfying performance.

Martine Mahé’s Annio is sung with a bright and youthful vigor. Ms. Mahé’s exciting tone is perfect for the conflicted Annio, singing with both plaintinve sorrow and loving happiness. Elzbieta Szmytka sings Servillia with a pure and innocent tone, and her ‘S’altro che lagrime’ was handled with ease and proper phrasing. As Publio, Peter Rose is adequate, bringing nothing exceptionally offensive to the production, but is best as the low voice support in ensemble numbers. His solo lines are delivered with a heavy hand and very little focus on the text.

Sir Andrew Davis conducted a vigorous and regal performance. Clemenza is heavy on the brass for a Mozart score, given the royal themes and hailing choruses, and the London Philharmonic beautifully handles the potentially pompous music. Sir Davis’ wry and wily conducting switches from grand royal sounds to anguished music of lost love dripping with pathos easily and organically.

But really, the big problem is the odd videography. The aggressively raked stages, sometimes back to front, sometimes right to left, made for odd camera angles and strange shading. Somehow this created the effect that the stage was small and cramped; far from the royal palaces of Rome or the vast Coliseum.

There was also a pervading feeling of over-production, taking away from the authenticity of the work. Not once is anyone in the orchestra shown, even during the overture. With almost no time between scene changes and no break between acts, the opera seems rushed. You don’t really know how a break between acts can create a sense of closure and give the illusion of passing time until you don’t have one. Why this bothered me so much I don’t know, but aside from Ms. Putnam’s intriguing acting, I almost felt better off just having this released as a CD.

In a note of defense to those that taped this opera, in 1991 DVDs were so new that there are instructions on the package for ‘How to Operate this DVD.’ Maybe they had some grand idea of this new medium as a way to blend opera and film, but in the end their efforts proved counterproductive to both causes.






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11:57:02 PM, 12 July 2014
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