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All the more important, then, that Mozart should portray an absolute ruler of exemplary character. Titus had wrecked the Third Temple in Jerusalem in a fit of pique at local fanaticism; but all his young-man debaucheries were cast aside when he became emperor, and his reputation conveniently survived an early death. When surrounded in the opera by a group of characters emotionally at sixes and sevens, each apparently more neurotic than the last, Titus and his clemency have almost too easy a ride. He just manages to sign a death warrant, only to burn it at once.

Catherine Naglestad as Vitellia (left) with Susan Graham as Sesto in Act 1 of 'La Clemenza di Tito'
Catherine Naglestad as Vitellia (left) with Susan Graham as Sesto in Act 1 of 'La Clemenza di Tito'

Nothing in the work is more glorious than the overture, in which the cunning of Mozart's orchestration is matched by the effortless subtlety of his counterpoint [watch and listen -- DVD1 chapter 1, 1:40-2:56]. The basic libretto was an old one by Metastasio, modernised by drastically cutting the number of arias and increasing the ensembles. With the first duet we are in the thick of things. The Vitellia of Catherine Naglestad, hectic daughter of a loathsome father, has made a cat's paw of the young senator Sextus (Susan Graham), trusted friend of the emperor. She wants Titus dead by sunset so that she can have the throne Vitellius briefly held. Sextus beseeches a tender glance as reward [watch and listen -- DVD1 chapter 3, 8:41-10:13].

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Copyright © 16 March 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK

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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller