Set in ancient Rome after the assassination of the despot Vitellius by the followers of Vespasian whose son Titus is now the new ruler. Titus must reject long-term mistress Berenice, a foreign subject who is unpopular with the roman people, and must choose a Roman bride. Vitellia, daughter of Vitellius, determined to regain power by marrying Titus, who believes she has lost Titus to Berenice, persuades Sextus, Titus’ best friend who is also in love with her to kill Titus and burn the city. On learning that that Titus has sent Berenice away but chosen Servilia, Sextus’ sister as his consort, Vitellia is further enraged so continues with her plot and demands on Sextus.
Titus shows his first act of benevolence when he learns that Servilia is betrothed to Annius and he lets her go. Titus’ next choice of bride is Vitellia but her plot is in place, the city is ablaze and Titus’ murder is announced….
La Clemenza di Tito was written and performed as an ‘opera seria’ quite unlike Mozart’s more lively offerings. This English Touring Opera production reflects this but expertly delivers polished and captivating renditions of the story. There are a fair number of recitatives that carry the narrative of the story beautifully that are delivered with precision and passion. Titus (Mark Wilde) is strong and utterly believable as the benevolent new leader of Rome. Vitellia (Gillian Ramm), gives a polished performance with a good feeling of conspiracy and guilt. Julia Riley’s interpretation of Sextus is probably the strongest performance and she manages to convey all the emotion, passion and angst that Sextus goes through. Annius (Charlotte Stephenson) beautifully complements Sextus’ performance, while Rhona McKail’s portrayal of Servilia, the young love of Annius, is tender and heartfelt. Philip Spendley, as Publius, in a commanding performance, brings a much needed bass note to the other wise top tones of all the beautiful female voices. Richard Lewis conducts the orchestra who bring the usual Mozart fine music to life as the perfect compliment to the voices on stage.
Setting the opera in 1930s Italy does not feel quite correct to me, and the scenery is a little bare and minimal, but at least this allowed the audience to concentrate on a classic story expertly told by a cast of consummate professionals with lovely Mozart music as well.