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In Review > International

La Clemenza di Tito

PARIS
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
12/10/14

In Review Clemenza Paris lg 315
Streit and Lindsey as Tito and Sesto in Paris
© Vincent Pontet 2015

Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito opened on December 10at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in a new staging by actor/director Denis Podalydès from the Comédie Française, with the authentic instruments of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie conducted by Jérémie Rhorer.

Podalydès confirmed his theatrical background by beginning the evening not with Mozart’s overture but with the farewell monologue from Racine’s Bérénice, covering the troubled events prior to the opera. It was an intelligent idea, even if the aesthetic world of the composer and playwright are very different. The producer and his designer, Eric Ruf, freed the work from togas and sandals and transferred the action to a wood-paneled grand hotel in the 1930s, where the troubled leader lived out his personal drama behind closed doors. The show was superbly lit by Stéphanie Daniel and elegantly costumed by couturier Christian Lacroix. The staff dashing about the hotel to extinguish the elemental burning of the Capitol was reductive, and Tito’s clemency needed to attain greater humanitarian universality to take it beyond political expediency, but the detailed acting of the cast was exemplary. 

Act I was dominated by spoiled bad-girl Vitellia, whose shrill peals of spiteful laughter gave way to a mature woman seeking pardon. However, it was difficult to understand what Sesto had initially seen in this shrewish character. Soprano Karina Gauvin began the evening in blowsy voice and was tentative in Vitellia’s coloratura, but her second aria showed her substantial voice at its considerable best. The best dramatic moment of the evening came in the confrontation between Kurt Streit’s Tito and Kate Lindsey’s Sesto, as the truth of the plot to kill the leader came gradually to light. Streit’s tenor may no longer have much vocal sap or beauty, but he is a dedicated technician and brought a pensive intensity to the title role. It was a great evening for mezzo Lindsey, who brought time-stopping intensity to her Act II aria and almost stayed with Rhorer’s breakneck tempo for the triplets at the end of “Parto, parto.” Julie Boulianne was equally fine as a rich-voiced Annio. The two friends in their identical ’30s suits were also artists of quite similar timbre and vocal weight, but this was not a problem and even helped bond these convincing travesti characters. Adorable soprano Julie Fuchs made a fresh-voiced Servilia, bass-baritone Robert Gleadow a firm, resonant Publio.

Rhorer, who had conducted the work in Lyon (see OPERA NEWS, Jan. 2009) led a fluent, mature reading, allowing the score to breathe more naturally than in the past. A few tempos still veered toward the extreme in this light, transparent version of the opera, but generally the period instruments of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie sounded good, and the Ensemble Vocal Aedes chorus excelled in an evening of stylish music-making. spacer 

STEPHEN J. MUDGE

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