[Met Performance] CID:350710
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
La Clemenza di Tito {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/18/1984.

(Debut: Ann Murray

Metropolitan Opera House
October 18, 1984
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Tito....................Kenneth Riegel
Vitellia................Renata Scotto
Sesto...................Ann Murray [Debut]
Servilia................Gail Robinson
Annio...................Ariel Bybee
Publio..................John Cheek
Berenice................Cheryllynn Ross

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Designer................Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

La Clemenza di Tito received fourteen performances this season.

Production gift of The Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Fund for Lincoln Center

[Alternate title: The Clemency of Titus.]

Review of Donal Henahan in The New York Times:

It took the Metropolitan Opera more than a century to get around to Mozart's final opera,"La Clemenza di Tito," but now we have it. This grand example of his opera seria manner, a work fit to set beside "Idomeneo," his other essay in high flown Baroque artifice, made a spectacular first appearance last night in Jean Pierre Ponnelle's grander than grand production. Vocally the performance had a few lows but there were more than enough highs to compensate. Any Mozart lover would be a fool to miss this one.After an early success, "Tito" fell into neglect partly because it was considered old fashioned. But it also was generally dismissed as inferior work completed in a rush to fulfill a commission. Scholars now believe it more likely that much of the work had been written years before and put aside for some reason. At any rate, "Tito" has been rising in esteem and popularity recently and no admirer of the work need feel sheepish anymore.

The Metropolitan's production shows close kinship to Mr. Ponnelle's "Idomeneo" for the Met, another rather delayed first. The scene is imperial Rome this time, not Greece, but the scale and the mood are the same. Mr. Ponnelle has done some odd things here in the past, but he is at home in the Baroque. Scrims resembling Piranesi etchings gave way to immense, columned rooms and outdoor spaces. Even before fire broke out, signaling the assassination attempt on Tito, evidence of cracking and crumbling could be seen. This was obviously a Rome on the downgrade. As in "Idomeneo," the costumes were pure 18th century, placing the opera squarely in its composer's time, not Tito's. And as before, the effect was startling but dramatically right.

Despite a couple of last minute substitutions, the cast measured up well to Mozart's score, one of the most taxing he ever composed. Renata Scotto, apparently at the behest of the director, played the villainous Vitellia in a wild eyed termagantish manner that often slid over into hilarious parody, recalling Mr. Ponnelle's similar treatment of Elettra in "Idomeneo."

The role of Vitellia lies quite low, which seems to suit Miss Scotto's current vocal state rather well. She sounded rested except for a few wobbly high notes in forte and she used her chest voice to dramatic advantage, particularly in a grotesquely acted but brilliant "Non pill di fiori." In the great trio, "Vengo, aspettate," Miss Scotto either saw a mouse or made a quick, squeaking try at the high D that ends the number. On the whole, however, it was one of her better recent nights at the Metropolitan.

Kenneth Riegel's Tito served the purpose when the music did not carry him too high too long. He is not an especially persuasive actor, but he played his part with taste and some sense of the Baroque, Ponnelle style. Vocally, he struggled much of the time and in the famously exhausting "Se all'impero," with its cascading roulades, his tenor came close to giving out. This was not a night when Mr. Riegel was up to florid singing of any sort.

Ann Murray, an Irish mezzo soprano, was to have made her Metropolitan debut as Annio, but she had to step up into the role of Sesto after Tatiana Troyanos developed sinusitis. Sesto, a part written for a castrato, demands both vocal staying power and the ability to portray a weak kneed twerp without losing the sympathy of an audience. Miss Murray scored in both ways, her first aria, "Parto, parto," making clear that the role was in good hands. Dramatically, she seemed stuck with a couple of pathetic poses and gestures, but she could not have had time to work on much else. She had been scheduled, incidentally, to sing the role of Sesto later this season.

In the casting shift, the part of the gentle and trusting Annio fell to Ariel Bybee, who sang and acted so convincingly that one would have thought she had done nothing but Annio for years. Gail Robinson was sweet and silvery voiced as Annio's lover Servilia, and John Cheek was an imposing Publio, delivering his one aria, "Tardi s'avede," with sonorous dignity.

Review of Michael Redmond in the Newark Star-Ledger

James Levine's Met makes the most out of Mozart's flawed 'Clemenza'

One has to give Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine credit for having the courage of his convictions.

It seems that Levine is convinced of the importance of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," an "opera seria" composed in 1791 for a royal coronation in Prague. Levine has conducted "La Clemenza" in Salzburg, Mozart's shrine, and he was in the pit on Thursday for its Metropolitan Opera premiere.

The production features a fine cast, superb playing by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and breathtaking sets and costumes by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. It looks and sounds as impressive as a major Met production should.

Now if only "La Clemenza" were not so resolutely high-toned, so slow-moving, and ultimately so dull, everything would have been just perfect.

Based on the verse drama by Metastasio, "La Clemenza" is a paean of praise to the institution of monarchy. Mozart reportedly wrote the opera in a mere 18 days, which may account for its flaws.

The title character, the Roman emperor Titus Vespasian, is confronted by an attempted coup and assassination plot that involves his best friend, Sextus. Sextus has been duped to join the plot by the woman he loves, Vitellia. Titus eventually forgives both, thereby proving his essential nobility. Long live such a wonderful monarch, such an exemplar of all virtue, etc.

Appearing, as Titus was tenor Kenneth Riegel, who sang handsomely, aside from some vocal difficulties toward the end of the evening.

Vitellia was sung by soprano Renata Scotto, who gave a remarkably uneven performance - ranging from the embarrassing (the screechy, off-pitch singing of "Vengo, aspetate" in Act I) to the magical ("Non piu di fiori" in Act II). This latter high point for Scotto was, in fact, a performance worthy of the greatest artists. She was incandescent. But one scene does not a performance make.

The "pants role" of Sextus was not sung by Tatiana Troyanos, as announced. The indisposed mezzo-soprano was replaced by Dublin-born Ann Murray, in her Metropolitan Opera debut. Miss Murray scored an unqualified triumph that brought the entire premiere audience to its feet, cheering with excitement. It would not be unfair to say that "La Clemenza" did not ignite until the end of Act I, with Miss Murray's thrilling performance of the aria "O Dei, che smania e questa."

Fine performances were also handed in by Gail Robinson (Servilia), Ariel Bybee (Annius), and John Cheek (Publius). And the Met chorus, directed by David Stivender, sang magnificently.

Ponnelle's design for "La Clemenza" borrows heavily from Renaissance engravings of classical ruins. He achieves a striking interplay of monumentality and delicacy, stasis and action, by contrasting three-dimensional construction (all columns and arches) with black-and-white scrims that drop in and out of the action. The costumes suggest the courts of the 17th Century.

Yet beautiful as this production is, it frequently threatened to overwhelm the stage action. The singers seem to get lost in all that faded magnificence. What Ponnelle has created is a grand opera production of a chamber opera. Considering the size of the Met stage, he probably had no alternative, but the scale nonetheless seems too grand for "La Clemenza."

In any case Levine has had his way and given "La Clemenza" a first-class premiere. The work deserves to be heard, if only for its historic interest. It took this opera 193 years to arrive at the Met. Now we know why.

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