Wednesday, February 20, 2013

La Clemenza di Tito

I was the Canadian Opera Company's production of Mozart's last opera last night.  I don't actually have much more to say about it than the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail.  I completely agree with this reviewer that it was really well sung, maybe the best sung Mozart opera I've seen at the COC, and that the substitute for Michael Schade, Owen McCausland, really shone in the title role (especially in the 2nd part).  However, it was marred by one of the most incoherent productions the COC has ever staged. 

Now I have complained about COC strangeness before, like when they tried to set Beethoven's Fidelio in a Kafkaesque (HA!) bureaucracy, or completely ruined the ending of Don Giovanni (for laughs?), but the problem with this one went deeper, in part because the notes the director, Christopher Alden, wrote for the playbill were quite intriguing.  He argues that Titus, who is characterized by his clemency (hence the title!), actually tyrannizes his populace with kindness. 

I have to admit, this sounded like a really interesting take, and I looked forward to seeing that.  Unfortunately, what happened on stage failed to resemble even the director's argument for the production!  Instead, it came off as farce, which, in light of the libretto and Mozart's music, simply made no sense.  It resulted in people laughing at points of high seriousness, and reducing certain characters, like Annio and Vitellia, to wildly inappropriate caricatures. Basically all the humour that was set up in the first part led to the audience seeing certain characters as funny, and so when they got serious, like when Vitellia completely changes her position on Tito, it comes off as though she's not serious, or perhaps insane. 

It was the same with the setting - I enjoyed the idea of a kind of late-late Modernist building, and the fact that it looked like every 1960's arts centre lobby in Canada, from Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre to the Confederation Centre in PEI.  But again, there was no payoff.

So unlike some of the previous productions I've seen, which were obviously thought through, but the concept itself was poorly conceived, this one struck me as intriguingly conceived, but terribly articulated in its execution. 

Nevertheless, I would highly recommend seeing it for the singing, and it's a shame that the house was the emptiest I've seen it in a long while last night given the quality of the musical performances. 

Just try not to think too much about what's going on on stage.

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