Mozart - La Clemenza di Tito

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday October 13 2013

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Production: Ivo van Hove. Sets: Jan Versweyveld. Costumes: An D’Huys. Video: Tal Yarden. Tito Vespasiano: Kurt Streit. Vitellia: Véronique Gens. Servilia: Simona Šaturová. Sesto: Anna Bonitatibus. Annio: Anna Grevelius. Publio: Alex Esposito. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

Visually, this handsome new Brussels production of Clemenza was as chic as it gets. Musically, taking its cue from the hero, perhaps, it was a model of civilised restraint.

Let’s take the unrelenting chic first. The single set was a textbook display of understated, contemporary glamour. Forget bling. This was über-cool. Think Wallpaper magazine. Think designer lodges in rich resorts. Think Singapore Airlines’ flagship lounge at Changi. Think Scandinavian revival: tan carpet, sleek, teak furniture, autumn colours, burnished silks. On the right, a desk with drinks and diary. At the back, twin beds against a teak headboard, with matching bedside cabinets and scrupulously un-flashy velvet designs, bronze and cream and turquoise, in the bedding, bolsters and cushions. On the left, an oval mirror and a strictly rectangular, studded lit de repos in plain brown wool. All around, low teak chairs with fawn seats, and discreetly luxurious standard and table lamps with plain shades shedding soft, gold light.

This all-purpose room was surrounded, in the first half, by black curtains, parting to reveal glass to sides and rear. In the second half, it was surrounded simply by black tiers of black chairs, with the chorus wandering in, one by one, to observe Tito’s last judgement. When the Capitol burned, red lights glowed in the gloom. When the room’s meticulous order was disturbed as events unfolded, it was not by violent action of any kind, but by staff, male and female, smartly dressed in neat, grey suits displacing the cushions and ruffling the bedclothes or, the only sudden visual “clash” allowed, forensic teams in white jumpsuits.

The costumes were so totally Prada I checked the programme (in vain) for credits: Prada throughout, they looked to me, from Tito’s black trousers, smart black shoes, black V-neck tee-shirt and, later, navy blue shirt, to Vitellia’s stunning frocks - the smartest-of-smart cocktail numbers cut from flimsy, slinky, sheer materials in subtle shades of fawn and flesh, encrusted with glittering appliqué work, worn with low-heeled shoes.

The similarly cool and understated action was followed, live, by hidden (or occasionally visible) cameras connected to a screen over the stage, highlighting the acting detail, as perfectly regulated as the set. Tito read a Kindle at his desk, got his messages by Blackberry and his news off an iPad.

There were no vocal outbursts, either: as I said, it was all civilised restraint. The cast was typical of La Monnaie’s team approach to Mozart and the stars (probably not unexpectedly, given the arias they get) were the cool but sumptuous Véronique Gens and Anna Bonitatibus, whose near-flawless agility made up for her rapid vibrato (which in any case is not everyone’s bugbear, only mine).

Kurt Streit’s voice is remarkably light and clear in recitatives, considering his maturity, but capable of strength in more dramatic moments. His top end was erratic on Sunday afternoon, but I think I saw him coughing discreetly at one point, so maybe the foul October weather outside was to blame. The remaining three members of the sextet were irreproachable, with a special mention for Alex Esposito (in Prada-style lie-de-vin suit). The orchestral playing was as unflashy as the rest: this was plain Mozart, not fancy. The chorus, in ordinary day clothes, was on form.

The show would make a nice video, and on a recording the occasional deficiencies in vocal projection, due probably to the lack of reflecting sets, wouldn’t be a problem. The only question really is whether it wasn’t all a bit too chic and tasteful and understated for its own good. A Duracell rabbit, Ronald McDonald or a spot more “violence,” as my neighbour put it, might have been welcome.

Il giardino di Armida has also reviewed this, twice.


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