Mozart: La clemenza di Tito

WORKS: La clemenza di Tito
PERFORMER: Michael Schade, Vesselina Kasarova, Dorothea Röschmann, Elina Garanca, Barbara Bonney, Luca Pisaroni; Vienna State Opera Choir & Philharmonic/Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir. Martin Kusej
Before the music has even begun Titus is seen furtively telephoning – presumably to order the young boys in their underpants who appear as the overture draws to a close. During the opera itself, Titus is portrayed as unmistakably gay; and as an explanation of the apparent willingness with which he surrenders a succession of potential spouses the notion is certainly intriguing. Equally convincing is Vittelia’s brazen use of her sexuality to persuade her lover, Sextus, to enact her revenge against the Emperor. Urging Sextus to set fire to the Capitol, she promises him that marriage will be his reward. Her words ‘Can my hand make you happy?’ are too much for the producer, Ku?ej, to resist: he has her place her hand strategically on Sextus’s body. But then, subtlety isn’t exactly the name of Ku?ej’s game. For Titus’s first entrance, he has him sitting on a bed as a crowd of tourists touting cameras and shades, wanders dazedly in. At the end of the Act, the tourists fall victim to terrorists who bomb the Capitol.


Despite blatant miscalculations, Ku?ej deserves credit for his imaginative use of the vast space of Salzburg’s Riding School, and for making the characters of this opera seria into real flesh and blood. And above all, the performance is wonderfully cast, with Vesselina Kasarova and Dorothea Röschmann outstanding as Sextus and Vitellia. Deliberately provocative, then, but strangely compelling. Misha Donat