Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito
Rebecca Franks enjoys Sir Colin Davis's La Clemenza di Tito at the Aix-en-Provence Festival
Mozart's music has been one of the backbones of the Aix-en-Provence festival ever since it started 63 years ago. This year, the Aix audience (myself among them) were treated to the composer's La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus), at the special request of its conductor, Sir Colin Davis. Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza's plot is essentially an elaboration on the adage ‘forgive and forget'. Under the baton of Davis, Mozart's music blossomed – the clarinet playing from Andrew Marriner was a particular joy – and the cast was top-notch.
Mezzo-soprano Anna Stephany, who came up through the ranks and studied at Aix-en-Provence’s Academy, made a delightful Annio, partnered with soprano Amel Brahim-Djelloul as Servillia. Soprano Carmen Giannattasio was her scheming, jealous, power-hungry antithesis, in the form of Vitellia. Tenor Gregory Kunde, stepping in at the last minute for an indisposed John Mark Ainsley, brought good-humoured aplomb to the role of Titus, although his voice didn’t seem at home in Mozart’s more decorative moments.
The real star was mezzo Sarah Connolly (left), in the trouser role of Sesto. Connolly became a tall, dashing suitor, desperate enough to murder a friend in the name of getting the girl. It was carried off to perfection (unlike the murder itself).
The only dud note in the production – which was given a Classical feel by director David McVicar thanks to a set echoing Aix's Roman past– came during its last moments. A plinth, bearing the name 'Titus', had taken centre stage at the start of the opera, the bust it concealed shrouded in dark cloth. His soldiers whipped this off at the end to reveal the Roman emperor. With silver shoulders and a bright red head. It looked like spray paint.
Presumably, we were meant to take this as some kind of reminder that behind Titus's good nature, there's blood. But, to me it looked like little more than Roman graffiti. I can't help thinking it'd have been better to have left that shroud on.
Rebecca Franks is reviews editor of BBC Music Magazine