“Gods watch over those who resemble them…”
Myth and timelessness
A Roman emperor in the guise of a centaur, half god, half human? A gloomy atmosphere that would fit best Maeterlinck’s plays and other symbolic poets? A midsummer night’s enchantment where every dream is allowed? With creepy giant creatures bursting out of dark grottoes glittering with mineral deposits, where passion consumes both monsterlike humans and animals? The audience is caught in a legendary place, an unlikely utopian Lucus romanus mysteriosus! What would indeed be so utterly sacred if not the emperor’s surrealistic desire to implement his fundamental Roman values of respect, compassion and loyalty? His determination to only act for the good of the city, and never indulge in reigning through terror. His opposing the worst betrayals by granting pardon and amnesty.
The offbeat staging of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito by Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège came as a wake up call. The second act however narrowed the staging to a mobile center rock overshadowing a floor adorned as if with tortoise luminescent scales, whereby the poetic and tragic atmosphere mingled in a poignant blend. Thomas Rösner, the conductor was in tune with the creative stage directors, he definitely added romantic hues to the Mozartian epic tale. Pierre Iodice, Liège’s ever inspired and talented choir director had prepared the chorus, all dressed in black. They discreetly went and sang behind the musicians in the pit.
On the darker side, the nightmare spells cunning, jealousy, crave for marriage and power, all in the hands of Vitellia. – Redemption will come with remorse. – She is jealous of Tito’s imminent marriage with Berenice, Queen of Judea. She covets the throne, but is loved by good-natured Sesto, brother of Servilia, a Roman girl Tito finally chooses in order to keep his people happy. However, Servilia rejects the proposal because she genuinely and loyally explains she is in love with Annio, Sesto’s best friend. Tito values Truth above flattery and blesses Annio and Servilia. Meanwhile, Vitellia has not perceived Tito’s change of hearts and coaxes Sesto to commit regicide to please her. Sesto commits the irreparable murder, but the man he stabbed is not the emperor. When Vitellia realizes Sesto has not betrayed her, she feels remorse. She can no longer bear to become the emperor’s spouse and eventually decides to reveal her dirty role in the plot. Tito is disappointed by the new betrayal but decides against being overcome by anger and pardons everyone, reaffirming his desire to act for the good of the city. In this preciously edifying opera, Tito is a model status dreamt and coined by Mozart.
The staging duo Roussat-Lubek has framed cruel Vitellia into a devilish lioness figure clad in red with a red hair dress that she finally takes down when she rightfully realizes how destructive she has been. Sesto, is nothing but a horny ram figure or a sheep. Servilia is a fragile pearl white fairy tale princess with a glittering Art Nouveau white robe with endless veil. Annius has turned in a shimmering white half winged angel that reminds us either of the Renaissance or of Jean Cocteau’s fantasy world. Publius, the leader of the Praetorian Guard, has been turned into a greenish eerie creature with huge skeleton hands that recall nightmarish characters of Andersen or Tolkien. …Or the powerful Time character in Maeterlinck’s “Oiseau Bleu”. The hands of Time?
Numerous hand gestures, highlighted the power of communication, including heartbreaking tender gestures made by an endearing young child to Tito. It wove a recurring very interesting theme. A remote memory of God’s gesture in Sistine Chapel? Anyway, the celebration of the human body came to a peak, whenever a company of gifted acrobats seemed to fall from the skies. They knew the ropes. Their speechless intervention made important messages all the more consistent. As it were, their hoops helped circle down and circulate the energy of the text. As it were, those extraordinary dancers had become body part of the scores and gavea kind of naked humanity to the music. Special mention must also be made of the luscious cocktail of light effects that lavishly flooded any stage movement. Labeled: Roussat-Lubek again!
But of course, it is the numerous beautiful Mozartian arias that caught our undivided attention. Finnish bass Markus Sihkonen sounded and looked like creepy Destiny at work. The whole opera seemed to consistently march out of darkness (with the first notes Vitellia’s grumbling song sung by Patrizia Ciofi) towards an enlightened ending that celebrated unconditional forgiveness. The second act’s animated discussion between Sesto and Tito was particularly moving, as well as Patrizia Ciofi’s regal interpretation of Vitellia’s final turn around. Anna Bonitatibus was perfect as a lively , enthusiastic, very humane Sesto, no longer a sheep but a dedicated lover, torn between his friendship and his love. His voice could soar like an eagle, wings and all! And Cecilia Montanari sings an aerial hovering Annio. This said, our favourite interpretation was with the typically Italian style and classy Leonardo Cortellazzi, who developed the leading role of Tito with tranquil splendour and transcendental significance. “Gods watch over those who resemble them…”
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