Tuesday November 20, 2012 - The Metropolitan Opera's current revival of their classic Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Mozart's LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is a joy both to the ear and the eye. Marty Sohl's production photo (above) illustrates the fantasy mixture of ancient Roman and baroque stylistic elements that give the sets and costumes their timeless visual appeal.
Tonight, Harry Bicket led a sterling performance, with excellent continuo playing from Bradley Brookshire (harpsichord) and David Heiss (cello) as well as spectacular woodwind solos in two of the opera's iconic arias: Andrew McGill (clarinet, in "Parto, parto") and James Ognibene (basset horn, in "Non piu di fiori"). Mr. Bicket's vivid pacing and his sense of the music's flow put the singers in high relief; there were three outstanding vocal performances and overall it was one of the most satisfying evenings at The Met in recent seasons.
To think that I almost skipped this revival! But a chance to hear Kate Lindsey as Annio was not to be missed, and the beauteous young mezzo (above) gave an immaculate performance, her lithe figure and ease of movement onstage enhancing her interpretation at every turn. Like many of her predecessors in this fach, Kate spends a lot of her onstage time in trousers (she'll debut at Glyndebourne as the Composer in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS in the coming year). Her singing tonight was pristine, with a particularly ravishing piano passage in "Tu fosti tradito" that would melt the coldest heart.
With his noble and expressive face, Giuseppe Filianoti (above) made a splendid impression as Tito. His singing was clear and mellifluous, the words poetically delivered. The tenor finely delineated the emperor's dilemma in dealing with his betrayal by his friend Sesto: should friendship trump justice? When I last heard Mr. Filianoti in the house, he was dealing with health issues, so it was really very pleasing to hear him on such beautiful vocal form tonight.
Somehow I've managed not to encounter a live performance by the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca (bove) up til now. I first heard her voice on a recording my friend Mollie sent me from the 2001 Cardiff Competition. Garanca has since developed into a world-class artist and after hearing her as Sesto tonight, she's on my A-list of singers. Both in terms of vocal appeal and technical accomplishment, this was a stunning performance: Garanca's voice is all of a piece, and she moves it thru the registers seamlessly. After a profoundly expressive rendering of the openng passages of the great aria "Parto, parto" Ms. Garanca sailed through the whirlwind coloratura flourishes of the aria's later pages with nimble assurance. Later, as she knelt to invoke the strength to carry out her assassination of Tito, she summoned an amazing degree of projection, the voice sailing into the hall with startling force. In her second spectacular aria "Deh per questo istante solo", the mezzo soprano coloured the voice movingly, reflecting the character's anguish and also his stalwart refusal to implicate Vitellia in the crime. Ms. Garanca's entire performance was a revelation.
Barbara Frittoli, an unforgettable Desdemona at the Met in 1999, has more recently found considerable success in singing Mozart since she did her voice some damage during the first decade of the 21st century by singing music that was too heavy for her. Her canny manipulation of dynamics usually prevents her widening vibrato from becoming too prevelant. But for all her attractive qualities, Vitellia's great aria "Non piu di fiori" simply lies too low for Ms. Frittoli to make her finest effect in the music. Vitellia in fact can be sung by a mezzo, except for that thorny top-D that Mozart threw into the act I trio, a note that eluded Ms. Frittoli tonight. Nevertheless, the soprano kept up her side of things all evening and the audience enjoyed her sometimes over-the-top dramatic portrayal.
Lucy Crowe as Servilia is a pretty girl with luminous eyes and a pleasing lyric timbre. In his search for a wife, Tito's first choice - Servilia - might have made him quite happy, especially with Ms. Crowe's buxom grace and girlish smile.
A wonderful Met evening, then, and there was every reason to stay to the end and shout' bravi' as the singers took their bows to sustained applause.
Metropolitan Opera House
November 20, 2012
LA CLEMENZA DI TITO
Bradley Brookshire, Harpsichord Continuo
Anthony McGill, Clarinet Soloist
James Ognibene, Basset Horn Soloist
David Heiss, Cello Continuo