Saturday, November 5, 2011

La Clemenza di Tito in Paris: Talented Mr. Decker

La Clemenza di Tito (La clémence de Titus), Opéra Garnier in Paris, September 12 2011

Willy Decker ..... Director
Adam Fischer ..... Conductor

Klaus Florian Vogt ..... Tito
Hibla Gerzmava ..... Vitellia
Stéphanie d'Oustrac ..... Sesto
Allyson McHardy ..... Annio
Amel Brahim-Djelloul ..... Servilia
Balint Szabo ..... Publio

Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris

When it comes to all things Mozart, I am sucker for everything except the kitschy souvenirs in Salzburg. A rare good decision of the current directorship of the Paris Opera was to revive a relatively old production of La Clemenza di Tito. "Relatively old" is to say that it was premiered and run twice in the 90's and early 2000's, but it was relegated to the stocks during the Gérard Mortier era at the Paris Opera. Mortier replaced it by an older production, directed by the Hermanns, the production that was a ground-breaker at the times it was created (in the 80's), that stunned the opera world, and was a source of inspirations to many talented opera directors ever since. By that production Mortier in fact wanted to exhibit his own taste and define the course --in terms of artistic qualities-- that he wanted to lead the Paris Opera.  During its run in Paris, the Hermanns production was recorded and released on DVD  that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone [Susan Graham at her very best, and Catherine Naglestad excellent as ever - among others.]  Nor surprisingly, Mortier will present that production in Madrid next spring.

Also recommendable is DVD of a quite good production from Salzburg by Martin Kusej. At this point I must stop to express my big disappointment after seeing the new David McVicar production of this opera, premiered last summer in Aix-en-Provence. David was either running out of ideas to stage a Mozart opera (something he is known to be particularly good at), or he simply did not care about the production at all. The result was amorphous, with no ground idea, the story telling dynamics was flat and yawn-worthy.  Definitely the one for David to either revise or to forget as fast as possible...

Back to the fate of the Willy Decker's Clemenza, the story is that when Mortier left Paris he took the Hermanns production away with him. The new governance of the Paris Opera had to undust one of the Mozart productions they've had in stocks and thankfully they did not pick the Magic Flute by Besson but La Clemenza di Tito. This must be one of the finest works by Willy Decker so far, and the Parisian public reacted accordingly -- Opéra Garnier was packed for the entire run of 9 shows.

This production is not audacious or deconstructing (La Clemenza is still a lesser known opera by Mozart), but it has all that is necessary to make a Mozart opera live to its full potential. It combines the elegance of the sets and a distinctive ground idea by Decker, with a clean straightforward narrative. The first image of the sets is a large aquarelle painting covering the entire stage (photo above), with the frame of the painting slightly displaced, ex-centered, to suggest that something was shaking Rome before we are introduced to the story. Once the opera starts the painting goes up (the frame remains) and we see the semi-oval simple bright background, and a huge marble stone in the center. Publio writes "Titus" on the stone, and Tito --a good well-natured guy-- who gets on power in spite of himself. His emperor title is setting the distance between him and his friends, and as the show progresses Tito will feel lonelier and unhappier.  At the same time the huge marble stone block is also progressively carved to result in a big sculpture of the emperor's bust. Tito pardons everyone for everything out of his misery, his loneliness, AND because he remained that same old good guy he was at the beginning of the show.

I don't know how much you can catch from what I just wrote if you did not see the show, but the idea works marvelously well with the music, with the story, and especially highlight the acting. Acting is almost always given the central role in the Willy Decker productions. All the actors were very well guided/directed, including the chorus whose role was well defined: they are the court members, wearing black and looking sinister; they were the judgmental people who pressured the Emperor to make decisions that were against what his heart was telling him to do.

What ultimately made this show truly compelling was its top musical quality. Adam Fischer is one of the top conductors of the Mozart operas, and he really makes the difference. The orchestra sounded lively, well toned, perfectly accurate, and at the same time there was a texture -- every instrument was producing a discernible sound -- that extra-dimension that makes the live performance very different from what you get on the recordings. Great job Mr.Fischer!

Singing was really magnificent. One of my favorite singers, Klaus Florian Vogt, was good but probably the least good on the stage. He obviously has the power for the role, but he cannot trill. He compensates it by his vibrato-less legato, and by his unearthly musicality, but this is not the kind of Tito you get from Gregory Kunde. Hibla Gerzmava is another Russian marvel-soprano. Her Vitellia is fiery, beautifully colored, at ease with high notes and wonderful in lower registers. Amel Brahim-Djelloul has a pretty, bright, voice that suits very well the role of Servilia, and made a brilliant combination with Annio, equally well sung by Allyson McHardy. Balint Szabo was good as ever, but I was particularly enchanted by Stéphanie d'Oustrac and her Sesto -- another new role for her, and another big success. She is on a roll and this only proves how fantastically she matured. She took her time, found her niche in baroque, Mozart repertoire, and in Carmen -- and she excels in each one of them. Brava!

Production photos:

Sesto and Tito

Tito starts feeling alone -- the praise he receives does not much to him

Servilia and Vitellia (in the last part of the show)

Sesto at the beginning

Stéphanie d'Oustrac and Klaus Florian Vogt

Amel Brahim-Djelloul (Servilia) and Allyson McHardy (Annio)

Tito wants Servilia to be his Empress

Publio tries to remind Tito about his "Emperor duty"

Tito betrayed, lonely...

 Tito - Sesto encounter

Vitellia -- wonderfully sung by Hibla Gerzmava

Curtain Call photos:

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