WORKS: La Clemenza di Tito
PERFORMER: Michael Schade, Vesselina Kasarova, Dorothea Röschmann, Elina GaranΩa; Vienna State Opera Choir; Vienna Philharmonic/Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir. Martin Kusej (Felsenreitschule, Salzburg, 2003)
CATALOGUE NO: 107 181(NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16: 9 picture format)
This 2003 La Clemenza di Tito has been available before, as part of DG’s mighty Mozart 22 collection of Salzburg Festival Mozart productions on DVD. Its reissue certainly sparks responses, hot and cold in equal measure. The strongest point in favour is its communication of the work’s austere power: a music-drama that both sums up the past and looks far into the future. The ‘modernity’ of Tito is highlighted in Martin Kuej’s severe modern-dress staging, in a bleakly glittering multi-storey set filling the vast Grosses Festspielhaus spaces. A telephone rings before the Overture, an explosion closes Act 1, paedophilia is rampant high up in the state structure, and Vitellia’s sexual hold on Sesto is graphically portrayed. In Michael Schade’s depiction Clement Titus becomes a nutty nail-biter with facial tics.
The characters, whether or not one accepts Kuej’s view of them, are all delineated with extraordinary vividness; in purely vocal terms likewise this is a Tito cast of considerable all-round distinction (though Schade’s moments of shallow tone and the hoots and flat pitching of Sesto, Vesselina Kasarova, may unsettle some listeners at times). The undermining weakness, for me at least, is Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s erratic conducting, full of unnatural, anti-drama tempo choices, rib-nudging pauses to underline ‘meaning’ and fancy textural highlightings. His stop-start handling of Act 2 is disastrously laboured, and as a whole his reading entirely fails to add up. Max Loppert