The Met’s broadcast season is now well underway, and I have finally managed to get through one of their operas without getting too strong a headache to write about it afterwards(happening way too much to me at the movies lately; I had one after Skyfall too), but there’s really not much to say about La Clamenza di Tito.
That the whole thing feels quite light and pretty and occasionally dull when a scene goes on way too long, at least it showcases the general idea of opera seria while not bothering with most of the stricter conventions when it doesn’t want to, half the music is highlighted well enough by Mozart’s skill and the other half by good singing, by Elina Garanca especially, and I am torn between thinking the whole idea of the opera as absurd and recognizing that if this might not have been what the Roman emperor Titus was actually like, it is pretty much how he was portrayed in Suetonius(which I took down from the bookshelf to confirm after I got home), and I’m not sure one could really expect Mozart to know better. It was apparently an old production from the 80s; as my dad pointed out, the Met doesn’t do this opera too often, so it’ll take longer between restagings. Still, it might be time. One should perhaps be wary of keeping a production the director for which has passed away
The production of Otello was slightly less old; it first premiered at the Met in 1994, and apparently Renee Fleming, only three years after her Met debut, as Desdemona stole the show from her co-star even then. 18 years on and she did it again, though it did not help Johan Bohta that he was a bit under the weather on the day of the broadcast, yet one feels if he’d been perfectly well the show would’ve still been stolen from him, and not even just by Fleming but by Falk Struckmann as Iago too. There was no real attempt, by the way, to make Fleming seem younger, but an older Desdemona in Otello works surprisingly well, especially since Shakespeare first act is cut out, leaving it ambiguous just when they married, and the devastation at the end works a lot better if the couple’s been together longer. Otello, like La Clemenza di Tito, seemed set in some time-that-never-was version of the era in which the opera was written, which in Clamenza distracted, and in Otello seemed to pretty much stayed out of the way. There might be better ways to stage Otello, but this one is serviceable for at least a little while longer. As long as Fleming’s still able to sing in it, anyway.
Thomas Ades’ The Tempest, an modern opera first premiered in 2004, is a completely different beast. It changes Shakespeare’s play a lot more, for one thing; while Verdi didn’t change Othello much more than was required by the medium, and kept the original themes more or less intact, Ades changes The Tempest around to make Caliban more sympathetic, change the dynamic of the Prospero-Ferdinand-Miranda story completely, and more or less modernize the story. The production also went for the strange, setting the whole thing in a Milan opera house, with the director explaining in an interview(we wouldn’t know it otherwise) that this is Prospero changing everyone’s perceptions when they’re on the island, which doesn’t seem to have much of a point or use to it, though it does sometimes provide for nice visuals, and it doesn’t cause Clamenza-sized hindrances. Modern music too, which meant more dissonance than melody, and more mood than beauty, but also things like defining a character like Ariel through her high vocal range to make her really sound otherworldly, and it provided Simon Keenlyside as Prospero enough to work with. He was pretty much the highlight of the whole thing.
The Tempest was the best of the three, though they all three were far from perfect, and were all three nonetheless worth at least listening to. Though maybe Clamenza might have worked better listening to it on the radio.