Wednesday, February 27, 2013

La Clemenza Di Tito: nice opera, too bad about the production

Mozart was a genius: even when he was dying, poor and taking gigs for money.

La Clemenza  Di Tito is a powerful story, of love, friendship, honour, betrayal and redemption.  The music is beautiful and the singing was mostly great.  So why this gimmicky, "let's see how cool and ironic we can be" production was foisted on the last work of a dying genius by the COC is anyone's guess.

This production was contrived and without respect for either the story or the performers. It pushed for comedy where there wasn't any. It bent gender so we had four female voices in more or less the same range. It used sight gags:  a constantly stretching runner, an Emperor wearing his pyjamas for the entire production, including his wedding, complete with a fuzzy Linus-blanket for a cape.  The director's choices undermined the performers and the story and robbed both of dignity and impact.

There was a lot of action for the sake of action: Tito knocking down the velvet ropes one by one for example, that did nothing to support the emotion the performer was trying to convey.

The singers struggled heroically to bring substance, intellectual and emotional integrity to this vacuous interpretation of what could have been a far more enjoyable opera, The power of  the singers and the orchestra did much to convey Mozart's story's heart in spite of the ham-fisted and attention-seeking direction.

Women in trouser roles are a long tradition and had they been presented less ironically, it could have worked to better effect.

Opera is struggling to find a younger audience, but vacant pandering without respect for either the opera, the performers or the audience is no way to get it. Note to directors:  you're not smarter than Mozart or Shakespeare or Aristophanes.  Get over yourselves and just do the bloody play by illuminating the characters and the emotional truth in the story.

It is possible to dynamically revisit a great work from a fresh perspective.  Robert Lepage's production of BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE was inventive and spell-binding. The COC did a great production of OEDIPUS some years ago that was visually compelling and emotionally harrowing. These productions respected the moral universe of the operas. Directors who fail  to do so can't possible hope to illuminate the work for the audience and serve to alienate us.  Sorry, no: you're not being fresh or avant-garde:  you're just being lousy at your job.

Mozart believed in Heaven in Hell, in truth and justice and in the power of love to transform and redeem people and relationships. He lived, as many people in the world still do, in a country where it was possible for the state to put someone to death, horribly, for treason.  The production could have been set in Syria, Egypt or the U.S. if  the director wanted  to offer the audience a more contemporary exploration of the relationship between the power of the State to both set a moral tone for its people and uphold the rule of law.

I am tired of seeing productions with no respect for the moral universe in which the work was originally created.  Scorched Earth irony seldom serves a production where someone is trying to talk about the balance between power and mercy and what it is possible for love to achieve.

Opera Atelier packs people in and does pull a young audience by doing productions that respect the history of the time in which they were written and the style in which they were originally performed.  The next time the COC does Mozart, they might want to visit the competition who deliver stylish baroque opera with heart.

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