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MOZART la clemenza di tito ENO February 5 2005

Tito Paul Nilon
Vitellia Emma Bell
Sesto Sarah Connolly
Servilia Sally Matthews
Annio Stephanie Marshall
Publio Neal Davies
Conductor Roland Böer

Director David McVicar
Designer Yannis Thavoris
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Choreographer Leah Hausman
Translation Amanda Holden

No-one's favourite Mozart opera, Tito continues to fascinate and David McVicar’s new production at ENO (previously seen at Copenhagen) has pleased me more than two productions at the Royal Opera House and certainly far more than a disappointingly disorienting DVD of Nicholas Hytner's Glyndebourne production , which is sunk by the peculiar costuming, David Fielding's self conscious perspective-distorting sets and a general stiffness in the acting [Arthaus 100 406].

At ENO the orchestra, in exceptionally good form, responds to their new UK-debuting conductor from Frankfurt. Roland Böer brings a lightness and spring in the articulation to support as good a team of singers as you are likely to find, although they are not star names. The English text is impressively audible and helps the relationships come to life so that you can really care about the dilemmas that confront, especially, Titus and Sesto.

Sarah Connolly (R) never fails her devoted public in assumptions of male roles, and Paul Nilon encompasses the torments of a too sensitive and aware leader, pulled in opposite directions by duty and affection, with subtle movements and gestures conveying inward conflict, whilst singing his testing role with authority and apparent ease. My only doubts at this first night concerned the presentation of the vengeful, manipulating and finally repentant Vitellia. Emma Bell, whose debut lieder CD was one of my records of the year, is the aspiring putative Empress, playing her lover Sesto along at her behest to the peril of Rome and practically to the point of his execution. Her hair style [pictured above] jars, though it has been put to me that it may signify 21st century feminism, and also gender confusion may relate to untrustworthiness and deceit; a situation where suspicion is rife. More seriously, her vocal delivery heard in the circle was exaggerated, over the top at moments of climax, often nearly inaudible at others. Perhaps this will be modified at later performances; clearly she is an important star in the making.

The smaller parts were well taken and this was a fine team achievement, with actors as the attendant guards supplying movement and watchable poses contributing to pleasing stage pictures; all in all one of the most satisfying nights at the Coliseum of the season.

The fully illustrated programme book is a model of its (often overpriced) kind, with good essays on the historical background (failed assassination of the Roman Emperor, mercy to the conspirators) and contemporary performance notes from La Clemenza's early disparagement to its eventual triumph, coinciding with the premiere of Zauberflote a few weeks before Mozart's death; its popularity through into the 19th C paving the way for gradual acceptance of his more 'difficult' music.

Emma Bell & Sarah Connolly picts Geraint Lewis

© Peter Grahame Woolf