Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito

CD Button Gauvin, Fuchs, Lindsey, Boulianne; Streit, Gleadow; Le Cercle de l’Harmonie and Ensemble Aedes, Rhorer. Texts and translations. Alpha Classics Alpha 270 (2)

Recordings Clemenza di Tito cover 717

LE CERCLE DE L'HARMONIE'S vivid recording of Mozart’s comic singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail gave me high hopes for their latest disc, the composer’s serious, late work La Clemenza di Tito, recorded live in December 2014. And indeed, under Jérémie Rhorer’s baton, the ensembles are beautifully detailed, and the instrumental playing is delicious: there are boldly colored contributions from winds and brass, and the string-playing is both warm and elegant. 

Yet there’s a serious drawback—the recitatives, in which the plot of secrecy, betrayal and double-dealing unfolds. As in a horrible TV miniseries attempting to humanize ancient personages with anachronistic realism, the Roman emperor and his patrician friends sound like characters in a comic opera, bustling about without the nobility demanded by their Classical origins or the clarity and balance of their Enlightenment reappearance in Mazzolà’s reworking of Metastasio’s libretto. Even worse is the outrageously overdone fortepiano accompaniment by an unnamed culprit. When the eruption of Vesuvius is mentioned, we are subjected to a keyboard reenactment. Throughout the performance, arpeggios, interludes, banged chords and mini-concertos surge, and more than once I expected a singer to give up mid-phrase and ask, “Are you done?” 

In the title role, tenor Kurt Streit displays musical maturity and much thought, and his arias are excellent, particularly “Del più sublime soglio,” an elegant meditation on the responsibilities of rulership. Yet Streit often stabs at high notes, and his white timbre can turn strident. Snapping and short-tempered, this Tito does not seem the sort of ruler capable of displaying the titular mercy of the finale.

As Tito’s friend Sesto, led astray by his infatuation with the conniving Vitellia, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey makes much of her arias, although Rhorer’s presto finale to “Parto, parto” nearly leaves her in the dust; the grand accompanied recitative scene, as Sesto wrestles with his conscience while his accomplices set fire to the Capitol, is superbly detailed. In the other trouser role, Annio, mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne sounds consistently rich, shaping phrases with panache and bringing elegance, along with vocal temperament, to the aria “Torna di Tito a lato.” When Annio and Servilia (the bright-voiced soprano Julie Fuchs) realize their love has become a political liability, they join in the deliciously sensuous yet decorous duet “Ah perdona al primo affetto,” one of the recording’s highlights.

Soprano Karina Gauvin is well cast as the vengeful, manipulative Vitellia, using her hooded, swallowed sound and even cackling obsessively. She turns on the charm in “Se piacer mi vuoi,” wrapping the helpless Sesto around her little finger, and rises to the majestic Act II rondo, “Non più di fiori.” Yet for all her spitting and hissing of consonants, it’s difficult to understand Gauvin’s text. With supple, alluring sound and excellent dramatic pacing, Robert Gleadow highlights the role of Publio.  —Judith Malafronte 

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