As Hilary Finch argues, it would be wrong to dismiss La clemenza di Tito as the type of opera that Mozart should have outgrown years before his death. Feeling that each individual is multi-dimensional, with their loyalties and emotions pulled in all directions, she sees the opera as the “summation and apotheosis of those great themes of tolerance, forgiveness, and acceptance of death which Mozart raised, investigated and metamorphosed into music throughout his short life”.
In this concert performance by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (although it could almost have been described as semi-staged) such an interpretation was more than proved right as the superb singers also excelled at characterisation. Alice Coote was a particularly fine Sesto, whose torn and tormented thoughts could be seen running through her head at every moment. Her vocal output was sublime in its sureness and beauty, and she brought immaculate sensitivity to ‘Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio’, as well as intense but noble anxiety to ‘Deh, per questo istante solo’.
Michael Schade excelled as Tito with his light, resonant voice proving equally adept at exerting exceptional force and indulging in quiet soul searching. He came across as an Emperor who knew that he was too compassionate for his own good, so that his immense sorrow on hearing that Sesto had tried to murder him was followed by an obvious determination not be seen as a pushover when Annio appealed to his heart to spare the offender.
Malin Hartelius as Vitellia had a voice that perfectly captured the sense of haughty expectation that Sesto should obey her, and yet could soar in the upper register with a searing beauty and sensitivity. Then as she confessed her crime at the end, she revealed how she now expected the same standards of herself that she had previously demanded of Tito’s friend. Of the other principals, Rosa Feola was a sweet-voiced Servilia, Christina Daletska an effective Annio, and Brindley Sherratt a firm and secure Publio.
In the Barbican Hall, the orchestra almost formed the opera’s set in its own right. Two red carpets ran through it, from which the principals entered and exited the performance area, and some singing was delivered right from the centre of the ensemble. For each of its consecutive entrances the splendid Deutscher Kammerchor appeared at the front of the stage, down the auditorium steps, scattered throughout the orchestra facing in numerous directions, and finally through the door at the back of the stage.
Conductor Louis Langrée encouraged the orchestra to languish in Sesto’s arias, but otherwise led it on a tour de force that achieved the right balance between strict musical and dramatic requirements, and combined a sprightly, exuberant pace with a pleasing lightness of touch.
Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk