DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Opera review: COC's Clemenza di Tito a mess of visual contradictions saved by brilliant singing

By John Terauds on February 3, 2013

Michael Schade (standing) as Tito and Isabel Leonard as Sesto in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La clemenza di Tito (Michael Cooper photo).
Michael Schade (standing) as Tito and Isabel Leonard as Sesto in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Clemenza di Tito (Michael Cooper photo).

So how much clemency do we show director Christopher Alden, who unveiled the Canadian Opera Company version of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito on Sunday afternoon — a production originally shown at Chicago Opera Theater almost four years ago?

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Alden, a much-respected figure in the world of opera, has created a strange hodgepodge of mixed messages wrapped in strong visuals.

Alden’s Clemenza di Tito is all about a long, slick Mid-Century Modern travertine wall.

That immovable, imposing piece of scenery dwarfs all the human actors. It also serves as a punching bag, barrier and billboard for every situation in Mozart’s dramatic masterwork.

But what does the wall mean, exactly?

Thanks to a profusion of mixed messages in front of the wall, it’s hard to tell. Perhaps it’s all about containing the messiness of the human heart and of politics. Perhaps its something else.

One thing that is absolutely clear, though: this opera is gorgeously sung.

Golden-voiced American soprano Keri Alkema is vocally brilliant as Vitellia, the female catalyst for the story of ambition and betrayal which is ultimately resolved by the pardoning grace of Roman emperor Tito — portrayed by Canadian tenor Michael Schade in glorious vocal form.

Young New Yorker Isabel Leonard is spectacular as Sesto, who bows to Vitellia’s wishes and tries to assassinate Tito. Here is one of the great young mezzos of our time — not just a brilliant singer, but a capable dramatic force, the only one of this production’s characters who was able to focus all of her physical energy into a consistent message.

Rising Canadians — mezzo Wallis Giunta as Annio (a Patrician recast as a jogging fiend) and soprano Mireille Asselin as Servillia — were excellent in their roles and given opportunities to nicely show off their vocal chops. Bass-baritone Robert Gleadow had the thankless task of portraying Publio in full Roman centurion drag, but sang well.

The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra was a a model of grace under Daniel Cohen, who had a leisurely but endearing  way with his baton. Sandra Horst’s chorus was effectively deployed from the very top of the hall, just under the ceiling.

The visual side of this production is as full of contradictions as Alden’s direction. Set designer Andrew Cavanaugh Holland has done an excellent rendition of an early-1960s Modernist lobby as the one-and-only set, but Terese Wadden’s costumes are a bizarre mishmash of modern (something from Doris Day movie, actually) and Ancient Roman.

Gary Marder’s lighting alternates harsh whites with golden yellows projected from stage right, hard on the eyes of anyone sitting on the opposite side of the auditorium.

Tito himself spends the bulk of the opera wearing purple silk pyjamas — a sort of Hugh Hefner draped in a brown carpet that he drags and tosses about like a security blanket. This is not a great Roman emperor, but a reluctant, dissolute shadow of what Mozart’s Tito was supposed to be.

Mozart wrote the opera in 1791 as a celebration of what a fair monarch should represent — as Tito sings, “I won’t have loyalty that comes from fear” — but Alden undermines this with messages about how love and politics are nothing but empty promises.

Thank goodness the music itself is as beautiful as Mozart gets. That goes a long way toward forgiving this production’s faults.

Performances continue to Feb. 22, with a special Ensemble Studio version being presented on Feb. 6, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Details here.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

RECORD KEEPING | A Tale Of Two Composer Prodigies

By Paul E. Robinson on September 12, 2017

This CD is a tale of two cities' young composer prodigies: George Gershwin to our south, and Quebec's André Mathieu.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

SCRUTINY | Stars Align For Toronto Symphony Season Launch

By John Terauds on September 20, 2017

Peter Oundjian launched his 14th and final season as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall on Tuesday night with verve and panache. Fourteen years may be a long time, but he and the orchestra are wearing them very well.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR | Musical Toronto Reimagined

By Michael Vincent on August 31, 2017

A word from our publisher to you, our readers, as we look ahead to the future, the here and the now of music coverage online.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.