Just in case you haven’t picked up on this, everyone is performing Mozart this year because young Amadeus was born 250 years ago.
Opera Australia has revived his last and -“ for Mozart -“ rather serious and old-fashioned opera, written just two months before he was snuffed out in the brutal winter of 1791. Dead at 36, he didn’t even have time to finish his famous Requiem.
La Clemenza is about the unrelenting clemency of an enlightened Roman emperor, Titus, who forgives even those who plot his downfall.
For the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting old superstitions for reason and a new belief in the goodness of mankind, it was a popular yarn of the 18th century. Thirteen composers had already made operas from the story. And it was a handy vehicle for Mozart to flatter his new liberal emperor.
This production directed 15 years ago by Moffatt Oxenbould is based on the fresh vision brought to Mozart’s operas in the 1980s by the European partners, designer Carl Friedrich Oberle and the late director, Goran Jarvefelt.
Thus this La Clemenza is set in Mozart’s own time, positioned rightly in that period which so idealised this story, and staged with the clean lines of classical architecture uncluttered with props and with a realistic eye for dramatic character and action.
The Jarvefelt/ Oberle vision is also lit with what seems like perpetual sunrise, as singers are bathed in the optimistic new daylight of Enlightenment.
Beautifully staged, the opera, for me, is however still overly confined by its ancient and predictable order of recitatives and formal arias, with each character singing formalised rather than dramatically shifting responses.
True to the old convention, Mozart here even revived the use of castrati singing the roles of the two male lovers. Short on eunuchs, the OA has refashioned these into trousered roles for women, which Wendy Dawn Thompson and Taryn Fiebig sing with aplomb.
One is hopelessly in love with the resentful Vitellia (Kate Ladner) who, with her evil streak of convincing her lover to murder Titus, is by far the most interesting character.
Titus on the other hand is just too good to be true, and is given an uncharismatic, even technically faulty performance by Glenn Winslade.
Somehow, though, in this historic operatic form, Mozart’s ironies, his social commentary and his glorious melodies still find room to breathe. For the fans this is a welcome revival of a landmark production.
La Clemenza Di Tito is running now at the Opera House Theatre.