The title of this review is due to my friend Dehggial, it was too brilliant not to reuse it.
The opera is La clemenza di Tito, by Mozart, in the interpretation of the renowned genius conductor Teodor Currentzis, in concert form, at Die Glocke in Bremen. The opera has been “re-worked” quite a bit by Currentzis: almost all the recitativi secchi were eliminated, one of the best ensembles (the trio at the end of the opera) mercilessly cut, and random numbers from the Mass in C minor inserted here and there (hence, the “medley” and the WTF in Dehggial’s title). From a musical, intellectual, cultural point of view, it was a disgrace. A very entertaining disgrace, I must add.
Currentzis is some sort of genius, no doubt. I was blown away by his interpretation of The Indian Queen, and, now that he has disappointed me a little, a more thorough analysis is in order. What is absolutely irresistible about him is the sense of unity of his performances. This is a guy who has moved to the (literal) middle of nowhere, Perm, in Siberia (google it), taking a bunch of great musicians with him, and has created some sort of a cult. A benign cult, devoted to music. His orchestra and choir respond to him, and to each other, like nothing I have ever seen. The choir in particular is absolutely amazing: the precision, the sense of singing as one person, or rather, one instrument, played by the conductor, are overwhelming. Currentzis himself is incredibly compelling, on stage. He stomps (too much, at times), he dances and “plays” like a child with his musicians, he’s irresistible. He knows he has done something amazing with this ensemble, and he shows off: “Look what we can do. I raise an eyebrow, and they respond immediately. We are one.” This performance is absolutely amazing, and it stirs up an enormous emotional response from the audience.
The limitation of this approach is that you end up watching him instead of listening to the music. Unfortunately, at times he gets enamored with himself and shows off a bit too much; this detracts from the musical experience, in my opinion. He has certainly drawn to classical music many people who never went to a concert before, but they go to watch the circus, not to listen to Shostakovich. In general (please allow me to be snobbish here) I find that the less you know about classical music, the more you enjoy his performance. Which, in itself, is nothing bad, of course.
This is exactly what happened to me with The Indian Queen: I know Purcell, but not so much, not in depth. Purcell is not close to my heart. So Currentzis put together stuff that is not meant to be together, added random spoken poems, the result was compelling and I responded very positively. My ignorance played in his/my favor. But Mozart is something else. Mozart is much closer to my heart. You don’t mess with Wolfie.
Removing the recitativi from the opera has the net result that the plot becomes incomprehensible, and the psychological motivations of the characters unfathomable. The opera turns into an aria showcase, which is not what an opera is meant to be, especially one which is so psychologically nuanced and sophisticated as Tito. The emotional tension is moved from the story and the singers to Currentzis and his army. Then we have the Mass in C minor (WTF?). I agree, the Mass in C minor is gorgeous, but so are the arias of the Queen of the Night, why don’t we add them to La clemenza di Tito? or to Don Giovanni, for that matter. Hell, let’s add Cantata 149 to the next performance of St. John’s Passion, why not? It’s so beautiful! Of course, if you have no idea about the Mass in C minor, you just hear gorgeous music and go “this is good!”. As I said before, ignorance plays in his/the audience’s favor.
Let’s talk about the performance now. The Mass’ excerpts had mixed results. The Laudamus te was frankly ridiculous, it sounded like bad rock music. The soprano Anna Lucia Richter gave a correct but somewhat uninspired interpretation of the fiendishly difficult part, she came out alive, but not more than that. The choral parts were all incredibly good, the Qui tollis, in particular, was extremely emotional, a wonderful interpretation. It had nothing to do with Tito, but really good. In the Kyrie, Jeanine de Bique’ gave us an inspired and deeply spiritual performance of Christe eleison (maybe have her sing the Laudamus te next time?). The Hosanna was expectedly exhilarating.
And now, to Tito, or what was left of it.
The title role went to Maximilian Schmitt, who has a light voice, a tendency to put it in the nose, but is otherwise a reasonable Mozart singer. Not a memorable one, I would say; Tito is a very difficult character to impersonate, and he really did his best.
Sesto was Stephanie d’Oustrac. I have loved her in Médée and Theodora, and here her qualities were confirmed. I don’t think Mozart is her forte: her performances in Baroque music were more intense, in my opinion, but maybe she will grow into this. After all, it was her first run with Currentzis, and I don’t think they had many rehearsals. Her voice is very smooth and round, and extremely pleasant. What was missing, in my opinion, was the emotional commitment, she seemed not completely into the part.
Vitellia, the scheming Roman lady who pushes Sesto to betray Tito was Karina Gauvin. She was the best singer on stage, in my opinion. A wonderful interpretation, full of nuances: her voice managed to convey coyness, sexual innuendo, terror, remorse, regret, everything.
Jeanine de Bique was Annio, a soprano Annio, which is weird in itself, but, honestly, to me it sounds like a better choice than a mezzo. The aria in the second act is really high. I really loved her voice. Easy in the higher register, smooth and burnished in the lower, what a singer. Also, she was in the run of this Clemenza in the staged version, in Salzburg, so she was very much at ease in the part.
Servilia was Anna Lucia Richter, who, as I have already said, has a nice voice, but not much characterized. She has easy high notes, but seemed a bit generic.
Publio was the veteran Willard White, who, at 71 years of age, still features a booming and pleasant bass voice, and gave a very believable interpretation of the captain of the guard.
A very entertaining evening, but WTF! Mozart Medley Tito!