Saturday, 3 September 2011

La Clemenza Di Tito, Opus Opera

La Clemenza Di Tito is the second opera that Opus Opera has mounted this year, once again a Mozart opera seria. An opera tilting toward the enlightenment, the same mixture of longing and deceit is removed from the god-fearing and fatalism of it's elder cousin Idomeneo and repositioned in a more day-to-day political situation. Though he is not always exactly inspired, this dessication is not a hindrance to Mozart, writing in this the last year of his life. However, the opera isn't helped by the rather prosaic and often long-winded recitative, almost certainly interpolated by a student. In this successful and coherent performance of the opera my only thought would be whether some judicious trimming of the recitative would have been appropriate (especially given that the performance was sung in Italian, without surtitling or libretti available).

In putting on this concert performance, resources went into providing an orchestra, a modest (though effective) chorus and, on this occasion, a fortepiano for the recitatives played by the musical director, Gregory Batsleer. The venue, Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, is a sizeable church whose marbled cavities are currently engorged by an absent organ. The sound is consequently a little unwieldy; not so much boomy as difficult to control. The young, undoubtedly late-convened orchestra's ensemble was never going to retain any fizz through this nebulous acoustic - this is a space ideal for a Coronation Mass, rather than a stage drama. Nonetheless with his assertive direction Batsleer did manage to pull some real definition from the score as well as some occasional loveliness, particularly from the upper woodwind.

Cutting through these inevitable compromises, the sextet of characters sang well, investing both Italian and  music with technical and dramatic fluency. Kirstin Sharpin's Vitellia gripped the story from the offset, wringing drama from the recitative exchanges with Emilie Alford's Sesto. Deh, se piacer mi vuoi showed range and bite. As the plangent Annio, Kate Grosset sang with crisp Italian, a nicely balanced counterpart to Rebecca Henning's Servilia. Their sweet love duet Ah, perdona al primo affetto achieved a natural, consoling lilt. When the eponymous Emperor finally appeared it was worth the wait. Ben Thapa sang right down the church without clubbing the sound. The space was no friend of the extremes of dynamic gradient he is able to achieve, but this power supports a lovely legato, allowing the character to remain above the fray but never forcefully imperious. Beside him Alexander Learmonth made the most of the functional Publio, allowing himself the occasional (and not unwelcome) Yes, Minister smirk to season his smooth, open baritone with some buffo. Careering inamongst the scheming, Emilie Alford was a flawless Sesto throughout. The disarming ease of a frighteningly vivace close-out to Parto parto should probably have prepared us for the time-stopping piano that finally tamed the difficult hall in the later Deh per questo instante solo. Classy singing.

One isn't always guaranteed such attention to the singing in the self-generated productions that orbit the West End of London. The preparation of the score by the singers certainly carried this performance and with some panache.

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