Spirited singing fails to enliven Mozart opera

Associated Press Published: May 19, 2012

VIENNA (AP) — All the lovely singing fails to save the Vienna State Opera's new production of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito."

No less an expert than Richard Wagner called Mozart's last opera "stiff and dry." And that's how the work came across at its latest reincarnation on Thursday.

Musically, the evening was a treat.

In her role as Sesto, Elina Garanca's big mezzo voice easily powered into effortless crescendos that rode atop the orchestra before throttling down with equal aplomb to perform delicate passages allowing solo woodwinds to shine through.

As Sesto's beloved Vitellia, Juliane Banse's voice topped out several times in the opening minutes, but she quickly felt comfortable enough to handle the more demanding coloratura sections. Also good: Chen Reiss as Servilia, Sesto's sister; Serena Malfi as Annio, Servilia's lover, Adam Plachetka as Publio, the emperor's confidante, Jennifer Larunsi as the princess Berenice and the Vienna State Opera Choir.

Not meeting expectations was Michael Schade as Tito. This improbable emperor forgives would-be assassins, women who chose others over him and others who defy his wishes — a highly artificial character who needs to be portrayed with vocal and acting authority to gain an inkling of believability.

Schade, whose specialty is Mozart, was adequate but not exceptional in both categories. His voice was occasionally thin, his theatrics overdone.

Not so for Louis Langree. Under his baton, the Vienna State Opera orchestra straddled with aplomb a score that moves from the staid pomp of the imperial palace to the passionate tempos of love and betrayal. The music can flow slowly here, tripped up by the many recitative passages, but Langree managed to avoid the orchestral stagnation that often characterizes the first act.

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