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Clemenza di Tito

VIENNA
Wiener Staatsoper
5/17/12

One negative trend is beginning to be apparent less than two years into Dominique Meyer's term as intendant of Wiener Staatsoper — his choice of stage directors. Formerly head of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Meyer has invited several French régissseurs to Vienna, mostly with negative results. The new Figaro and Don Giovanni staged by Jean-Louis Martinoty were so poorly received that a planned Così to complete a Mozart–da Ponte cycle was canceled. This season, new productions directed by Jean-François Sivadier, Peter Konwitschny and Jérôme Deschamps have all been unmitigated disasters. Hopes were high when Jürgen Flimm returned to the Staatsoper after a decade to stage a new Clemenza di Tito (seen May 17).

Those hopes were dashed when the curtain rose: we were greeted by a basically empty stage with some furniture strewn about, peeling wallpaper, fragments of artists' canvases, a graffiti-covered gray wall far upstage, and a well-stocked, trendy bar. The designs by George Tsypin also featured an industrial metal track overhead. Stagehands moved walls across the stage with no discernable change in location.

Most distressing was the lack of clear storytelling. To say that Flimm was booed by the entire opera house when brought onstage for a bow is an understatement. I saw something I've never before witnessed: dozens of people crammed their way to the front row and held out their arms with thumbs down.

Elina Garanča saved the day with her deeply impassioned Sesto, stopping the show cold with her exquisite "Parto, parto" (oh, those trills!) and violent intensity in her scenes with Tito. Michael Schade has more than proved himself as one of the preeminent Mozart tenors of out time, but Tito seemed an odd fit for him; his voice took on an unusual huskiness, and the fioritura was clumsily executed.

As wonderful an artist as she may be, Juliane Banse is not up to the superhuman demands of Vitellia. She seemed to be having trouble with sudden leaps to high notes and was basically overwhelmed by the wildly fluctuating tessitura of "Non più di fiori," — in which the entire bottom half of her voice went missing.

The combination of Chen Reiss's sweet soubrette soprano and Serena Malfi's plush mezzo was a delight in the scenes between Servilia and Annio. Adam Plachetka, at twenty-six the first singer in the Staatsoper's history to sing Don Giovanni, Figaro and Guglielmo in the same season, gave further credence to his emerging status as a truly magnificent bass-baritone with his solidly sung, mahogany-toned Publio.

Louis Langrée made hash of Mozart's score, interpolating rests and fermatas and distending tempos to the point where phrases virtually fell apart. Langrée chose not to conduct the recitatives; American hammerklavier specialist Stephen Hopkins, who accompanied the recits, almost singlehandedly managed the miracle of keeping the show moving. spacer

LARRY L. LASH

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