Conspiracy Theories: La Clemenza di Tito at the Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa

Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito

Tito – Charles Workman

Sesto – Anna Bonitatibus

Vitellia – Ewa Vesin

Annio – Anna Bernacka

Servilia – Katarzyna Trylnik

Publio – Krzysztof Bączyk

Chór i Orkiestra Teatru Wielkiego – Opery Narodowej / Benjamin Bayl.

Stage Director – Ivo van Hove.

Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw, Poland.  Saturday, January 16th, 2016 

Unfortunately, the Teatr Wielki has not yet made production photos available.  If they subsequently are, I will update the review with the photos.

The Teatr Wielki is another European theatre offering a highly stimulating 2015 – 16 season.  In addition to this Clemenza, there are also interesting productions of Iolanta/Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Salome coming up.  Production values are high and as I discovered on a previous visit a few years ago, the house forces are more than decent.  The only area where the theatre lets itself down is in its organization.  Emails go unanswered and the website still does not have accurate casting details for a show in two months’ time.  This is surely a basic if the house aims to become the world-class theatre it wishes to and deserves to be.

Tonight’s Clemenza was previously seen in Brussels in 2013.  It had much to say about the nature of public life and the surveillance culture in which we live.  There were camera operators situated around the set and a large screen situated at the back of the stage broadcast their close-up views of individual characters, objects (such as the knife) or alternative views on the action.  It certainly offered an interesting way to view the story, the downside being that it took attention away from the individual flesh and blood performers and also took something away from the audience’s ability to make up their own mind and draw their own conclusions about the narrative.  There were a few non sequiturs.  Act 2 opened on a crime scene with investigators appearing in sterile suits yet characters acted around them thereby contaminating the crime scene.  The remainder of the opera then took place in the crime scene which seemed to raise more questions than it answered.  The staging certainly made a statement – the chorus sitting in rows to watch Vitellia sing ‘non più di fiori’ made it feel that nothing in our surveillance culture is ever private – yet I’m not quite sure it allowed the audience to draw its own conclusions.

Musically there was much that was really satisfying in a performance notable for genuine stylishness and a unanimity of approach throughout the cast.  Charles Workman was a well-schooled and elegantly sung Tito.  He sang those awkward passaggio-crossing intervals with the utmost ease, the voice absolutely even from top to bottom.  He dispatched ‘se all’impero’ with fluency and accuracy.  This was singing of such genuine musicality.  Ewa Vesin’s Vitellia was tremendous value.  She has a generous chest register and she certainly isn’t afraid to use it.  Her grapefruit-toned soprano takes no prisoners and she nailed the massive range of the part successfully.  There was something quite appropriate about the fierceness of her vocalism but words were frequently optional.  Her ‘non più di fiori’ had the tinge of regret it needed but at the same time felt extremely intense.  She’s an interesting singer and one I’d like to hear again but I hope that with time she can learn to make more of the text.

One singer who always makes the text come to life is Anna Bonitatibus and that was most certainly the case this evening.  Her instantly-recognizable mezzo with that distinctive fast vibrato is always a pleasure to hear, especially in Mozart.  Her Sesto was so completely believable both vocally and dramatically.  Once again Bonitatibus made time stand still in a ‘parto, parto’ where she drew the tone down to a tiny thread that still carried through the house and dispatched the florid writing with ease.  That aria alone seemed to raise the level of the performance instantly.  Then came a magical ‘deh per questo istante solo’ sung with glorious ornamentation that truly made the aria seem like it was written for her and her alone.

The remainder of the cast was highly respectable.  Anna Bernacka’s Annio was decently-sung with the stylishness that was demonstrated throughout the cast and a good sense of line.  The tone itself is bright but seems a little on the hollow side.  Katarzyna Trylnik’s Servilia took a little time to warm up – her first number was somewhat under the note – but she later did to give us a silver-toned assumption of her role.  Krzysztof Bączyk was a tower of strength as Publio with impeccable diction.

Benjamin Bayl led a reading where the unanimity of approach was clearly evident throughout the cast.  Tempi were well chosen and flowed nicely.  The recitatives didn’t quite feel as conversational as they could have but this could have been due to the diction of a minority of the cast.  The presence of the fortepianist was a wonderful addition to the texture playing with imagination and musicality.  Predictably, I would have preferred a crisper attack and no vibrato in the strings but the splendidly raspy horns sounded fabulous.  Unfortunately, the chorus were placed too far back in several sections to have the real impact they needed to but when they could be heard, they sang respectably enough.

Tonight’s Clemenza was performed in an interesting production that said much but that perhaps didn’t quite give the audience the space they needed to make up their own minds.  It was superbly sung in many cases and also showcased some interesting talents.  This was a show that was certainly worthy of a theatre with global aspirations.

La Clemenza di Tito at the Teatr Wielki - Opera Narodowa. Photo:  © Krzysztof Bieliński
La Clemenza di Tito at the Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa. Photo: © Krzysztof Bieliński


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