Mozart La clemenza di Tito
Rolando Villazón, Joyce DiDonato, Marina Rebeka, Regula Mühlemann, Tara Erraught, Adam Plachetka; RIAS Kammerchor; Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
DG 483 5210 140:10 mins (2 discs)
Since 2011, tenor Rolando Villazón has arranged for fellow singers to join him each summer for a Mozart opera in concert conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Besides assembling stars, the project gives Villazón a chance to sing a Mozart role outside his vocal type. Last summer’s project was a Clemenza di Tito production whose risk-taking paid off.
The action of Clemenza, devised to celebrate the Emperor Leopold II’s ascension, militates against audience empathy: the ambitious Vitellia plots to marry Roman Emperor Tito but, discovering his desire for another, persuades Sesto, her suitor and Tito’s friend, to try to murder him. After several twists, Tito forgives them both. Mozart dresses the opera’s scarcely credible narrative scaffold with music that grabs us and doesn’t let go. Joyce DiDonato (Sesto) makes the most of this, her turmoil overwhelming us in its depth, refinement and constant shifts. Apart from her gorgeous voice, DiDonato possesses a grace perfect for the role, soaring to expressive heights in her final six-minute aria. Marina Rebeka (Vitellia) is DiDonato’s ideal vocal and dramatic foil: with her slightly metallic timbre, she alters tempos and hurls fortissimos, bringing Vitellia’s imperiousness to life. Villazón is dignified and passionate in his title role, but over-sings his climactic ‘Se all’impero amici dei’, smearing its runs. What’s special about this Clemenza is Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s trust in Mozart’s lyricism, heard for instance in the huge space he gives the soloists for their tender numbers. The conductor has created a production that’s as sensitive as it is exuberant.