Classical Opera reviews

La Clemenza di Tito

New Theatre, Cardiff

It's not so many years since Mozart's last opera, , was routinely regarded as unstageable - impossible to awaken to any dramatic life, Alfred Einstein called it in his Short History of Music. Perhaps he had never heard it sung on-stage with the brilliance and vitality which were the real raison d'etre of these 18th-century opere serie, with their ridiculous magnanimous tyrants and trousered soprano heroes. But he might well have been converted by Welsh National Opera's new staging (in co-production with Opera de Bordeaux), which at its best is a vocal feast at the centre of a production (by Yannis Kokkos) deliberately stripped of nuance and offered almost defiantly in the spirit of a concert- in-costume, white on white, with a single (mobile) marble column and a portable white throne.

The risks in this approach are obvious enough, but so, with strong castings, are the dividends. Cardiff has one huge pay-off in the young Swedish mezzo Katarina Karneus, whose Sesto at a stroke converts this pallid Roman Hamlet into a psychological study of real intensity almost entirely through the medium of the voice. With an audience more in tune with this kind of opera, where applause is virtually built into the fabric, her "Deh per questo" would have been an absolute show-stopper - sung with such pleading bravura that Tito's capitulation becomes even more of a foregone conclusion than the opera's title (which might after all be ironic) already makes it. But her "Parto, parto" earlier on, with basset clarinet (Leslie Craven) studiously placed in a stage-box in full audience view, was also a sharp virtuoso study in warring emotions vocally defined. As Michelin would say, vaut le voyage.

Karneus is in good company, though it must be said that the Vitellia, Isabelle Vernet, while a poised and stylish performer, lacks the inflammatory personality, and perhaps the sheer vocal range, to explain why Sesto is prepared to wreck his life at her command. Her "Non piu di fiori" (with Peter Fielding in the stage-box) was a nice concert item but not much more (one remembers Janet Baker turning it into a virtual mad scene). Glenn Winslade's Tito, though, is strong and oddly plausible, even if the voice lacks the last degree of warmth. Paula Hoffman is an enchanting, mellifluous Annio - about as masculine, though, as little Red Riding Hood; Lisa Milne an exquisite Servilia, Umberto Chiummo a strong Publio, with just enough of the guarded, conspiratorial courtier and a fine, dark timbre which is more than usually welcome in these female surroundings.

Charles Mackerras conducts a crisp, pacey readings, perhaps a shade too long on recitative, but in other ways succinct, mobile, with modern instruments, but alert to the message of the so-called authentic. Authenticity here, of course, is a matter of musical commitment as much as any number of ornaments or castratos and WNO are well on the way to achieving it.

Further performance: 3 October (booking: 01222 878889); then on tour (information: 01222 464666)

A vocal feast: WNO's staging of Mozart's last opera Clive Barda

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits