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Mozart : La Clemenza di Tito

Christoph Prégardien (Tito)
Susan Graham (Sesto)
Catherine Naglestad (Vitellia)
Hannah Ester Minutillo (Annio)
Ekaterina Siurina (Servilia)
Roland Bracht (Publio)

Ursel et Karl-Ernst Herrmann (mise en scène),
Karl-Ernst Herrmann (décors et costumes),
Karl-Ernst Herrmann et Heinz Ilsanker (lumières)
Orchestre et Choeurs de l'Opéra National de Paris/Sylvain Cambreling

Opus Arte OA 0942 D
(Palais Garnier, Paris 2005 2 DVDs 212 mins including extras)

It has been fascinating to live through the period in which first Idomeneo (I saw Busch & Ebert première it at Glyndebourne) and, much later, La Clemenza di Tito have belatedly become firmly established in the Mozart canon.

There has been a notable recent London production at ENO, and now Mozart lovers have a choice of two DVDs of La Clemenza. Glyndebourne's (Hytner/Langridge) was fulsomely praised by Gramophone (Aug 2002) and this year's production in Paris was a triumph, especially for the unforgettable Sesto of Susan Graham, q.v. Concerto Net "- - Susan Graham est absolument extraordinaire: elle ne joue pas Sesto, elle est Sesto! - - "

This version by Ursel & Karl-Ernst Herrmann, newly released on DVD, is wholly absorbing with mainly close-up filming to bring the intense and conflicting feelings to life, possibly more vividly that would have been the case at the Opera Garnier unless you had good seats. The background set is deliberately neutral, white and pale pastel colours, focusing all attention upon the protagonists. The acting is so good that each of the singers can take exposure to every shade of emotion displayed; opera singers now have to allow for videoing.

But the real strength of the Hermanns' production method is that it pares down visual distraction and in scene after scene it is Mozart and his music which claims central attention, involvement and finally admiration.

The double-DVD includes a generous 53 mins illustrated film sequence of interviews with several of the cast talking about their own roles, and the Hermanns and Sylvain Cambreling discussing aspects of this production; the only problem I find with these is deciding when to watch them? Best probably afterwards, and after a gap, as otherwise they anticipate too much what you will be seeing in context.

Two small doubts. Why was redhead Hannah Ester Minutillo given so very feminine a hairdo? There can be a problem ar first in keeping in mind that when Sesto and Annio duet, both are 'men'. And I did wonder whether Christoph Prégardien was out of best voice when this Tito was filmed?
c.p. Concerto Net "- - Christoph Prégardien campe un superbe Titus et il est facile de “croire” à son désespoir de voir l'humanité si faible et si infidèle tant son interprétation est inspirée et juste. La voix est splendide et son allure souveraine est renforcée par la noblesse vocale et par des aigus triomphants. - - "

Mozart La Clemenza di Tito
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Design: David Fielding

Philip Langridge Tito ;
Ashley Putnam Vitellia ;
Diana Montague Sesto ;
Martine Mahé Annio ;
Elzbieta Szmytka Servilia ;
Peter Rose Publio

Glyndebourne Festival Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis
ArtHaus Musik DVD 100 406 (143 minutes : DDD)

- - here you feel Tito to be very near the top of the Mozartian operatic canon‚ a very different opinion from that which was current for so many years. (Gramophone 2002/8)

We took against the tricksey Glyndebourne staging and pseudo-historic costumes but, checking it up, have to say that Philip Langridge's more open voice is preferable to Christoph Prégardien's as on the new DVD, though the latter's acting is more subtle, so that the new Opus Arte version filmed at Paris is the clear purchasing recommendation, even though the extras make it a 2 DVD set.

More from Serena Fenwick:

Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito


Opus Arte DVD OA 0942 D

and Deutsche Grammophon CD 477 579-2


Nicholas Hytner's Paris production is just the sort that should be recorded on DVD as there is vastly more detail than could possibly be seen or absorbed in a large auditorium.


The opening titles give the key to the characters involved, each illustrated by as an object from the natural world – Vitellia a snake, Sesto a kestrel plummeting down on its prey, Annio a pomegranate (the symbol of righteousness), Servillia a pretty butterfly, Publio an ear shaped shell and Tito shorn of personality and represented by only by his symbol of office – the laurel wreath.


The setting has been removed from its historical context to an undefined period which allows us to focus on and explore the timeless emotional drama and the tensions between the characters. The uncluttered set and props have a strong neo-classical feel, eau-de-nil walls, a gold laurel wreath motif in the floor tiles, marble statues, and a superb pair of second empire chairs. Visual imagery continues to abound. In the opening few minutes Sesto presents Vitellia with a bunch of deep pink hydrangeas – a flower that symbolises heartlessness – they don't survive long before getting torn to shreds and the debris lie at the front of the stage throughout the proceedings. At his next entry he tries myosotis (forget-me-nots) which get even shorter shrift and are discarded without a second glance.


The costumes are spectacular in both shape and colouring – don't miss the subtle changes to the linings of the cloaks. Tito's outfits relate directly to those in David's many portraits of Bonaparte, the rest are decidedly modern


So, the production looks good, and it sounds even better. All the singers give really strong projections of their roles. Vitellia a scheming and spoilt princess, who wheedles, coaxes, sulks, rages vindictively and finally repents - Catherine Naglestad changes both demeanour and voice colour to match these moods. Sesto is equally a pivotal role in this work. Torn between love and loyalty, forced into a world that is emotionally falling apart– notice how the collar and cuffs of the costume fray progressively with mental disintegration. Susan Graham is outstanding, totally in character and throws off her two difficult arias with aplomb and apparent ease.


The young lovers, Annio and Servillia (Hannah Esther Minutillo and Ekaterina Siurina), look fabulous in their rather zany outfits, and sing superbly, lovely supple, lyrical voices. Their duet Ah perdona al primo affeto is staged in a sort of gondola and “it's deluxe it's de-lovely”.


In comparison, the men miss out somewhat. Their costumes are less flattering and they both tend to waddle. Publio is depicted as a rather sinister character; for Tito it's a question of weighing up humanitarianism against weakness. Christoph Pregardien is totally committed and projects a convincing dramatic portrayal, but he's vocally more attuned to Schubert lieder, and doesn't quite adapt to Mozart's idiom.


Sylvain Cambreling conducts with easy confidence, the orchestra responds, and the chorus do well with their minimal opportunity.


Writing at this point in time it is impossible to ignore the new CD recording of this work (Deutsche Grammophon 477 579-2), a spin off from last year's Edinburgh Festival. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts the Scottish Chamber Chorus and Orchestra, and his timing and phrasing are unsurpassed. Magdalena Kozena (Sesto) has an extensive and well-deserved following, Hillevi Martinpelto (Vitellia), Christine Rice (Annio) and Lisa Milne (Servillia) all shine – but if push came to shove and I had to choose – the DVD would win hands down because of the sheer beauty of its visual imagery.


Serena Fenwick


Photo (Susan Graham & Catherine Naglestad) Eric Mahoudeau

© Peter Grahame Woolf