Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Michael Schade (Emperor Tito), Tatiana Pavlovskaya (Vitellia), Marina Domashenko (Sesto), Jossie Perez (Annio), Nikolai Didenko (Publico), Hoo-Ryoung Hwang (Servilia)
Michael Hampe and German Droghetti (set design)
Washington Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Heinz Fricke (conductor)
That Washington DC was the location for a production of an opera dealing with political intrigue of the most dastardly kind seemed somewhat ironic or right, depending on your political viewpoint. But, the one viewpoint that was universal in this Washington National Opera production was its total excellence.
Although it’s fun to play with the comparison of contemporary politics and those of the AD 79 setting, the reality of the situation is that this effort was a brilliant telling of the tale of Titus Flavius Savinus Vespasianus (Tito to his friends) and his magnanimous nature.
In a production this fine, it was easy to see why La Clemenza di Tito was once considered one of Mozart’s two most popular operas, Don Giovanni being the other. “Was” is the operative word. The 18th century opera seria form began to fall out of favor, replaced with the more voguish phrases of the Romantic Age, sending works such as this one into quasi obscurity. Fortunately, the past is past. Interest is high for works such as La Clemenza di Tito and the high standards of this highly stylish production easily show why it’s “entertainment plus.”
The Washington National Opera cast Canadian tenor Michael Schade in the title role. Schade seems to have made this role his in the world of opera. His acting ability is of the theatrical stage variety. It’s solid and secure and based in thoughtful considerations of the character’s conflicted emotions. Schade’s every movement on stage is calculated to show his character’s dilemma. Right down to the finest point detail of his thumping his fingers nervously on his chair in his character’s moments of indecision over whether or not to put his best friend to death for his betrayal, Schade was Tito. The emperor’s majesty, magnanimousness, and conflicted nature were evident throughout as Schade relayed effectively and dramatically the dilemmas facing his character. Beyond superb, consummate acting, Schade also brought a ringing, solid sound that rounded off the totality of his substantial contributions and made his role memorable.
Singing Sesto, Tito's best friend, was the beautiful Russian mezzo soprano Marina Domashenko, whose trouser’s role performance was spectacular. Domashenko’s dark, exciting voice was focused and convincing, as was her characterization. Whenever she was on stage, Domashenko dominated it with her singing, acting, and stunning good looks.
Russian soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, as Vitellia, epitomized the saying about hell having no fury like a woman scorned. Her performance was strong and convincing. In fact, her Vitellia was so filled with angst that a touch of buffa seemed to creep into the seria of her plotting and planning to be Tito’s consort. While her character's frenetic behavior approached psychological proportions, Pavlovskaya's strong, directed soprano provided all the conviction needed to convey Vitellia's vicious intent. Her performance was exciting in every respect.
Russian bass Nikolai Didenko delivered a powerful Publico, Tito's guard. Similarly did soprano Hoo-Ryoung Hwang and mezzo soprano Jossie Perez deliver strong vocal performances as Servilia and Annio, respectively.
Michael Hampe's direction was exquisite. With masterful design, he clarified the myriad interactions taking place throughout the work, allowing the magnificence of Tito’s virtuous nature to assume even greater importance when cast against Vitellia’s vice. Hampe every elegant movement was carefully cast to create mood and add vitality to the libretto the wonderful score.
Adding to the visual appeal were the exquisite sets and costumes from the Theatro Municipal de Santiago. When it comes to lighting, it just doesn’t get much better than that of Joan Sullivan-Genthe, whose careful eye always adds dimension.
The Washington National Chorus, serving as Tito’s adorning citizenry, was in particularly fine voice.
Heinz Fricke’s conducting was superb, effectively blending recitative and aria into a whole that was compelling and musically exciting.
John C. Shulson