Review: Mozart's CLEMENZA DI TITO Brings Best Cast of Season to Met

By: Apr. 05, 2019
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Review: Mozart's CLEMENZA DI TITO Brings Best Cast of Season to Met
Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani and Elza van
den Heever. Photo: Richard Termine/Met Opera

While the cast for the season's revival of Mozart's LA CLEMENZA DI TITO looked good on paper, it didn't even hint at how good the singing was going to be at the Met this week. From top--tenor Matthew Polenzani, elegant and vibrant in the title role ("Se all'impero"), and the great mezzo Joyce DiDonato as Sesto (who delivers the opera's "hit" aria, "Parto, parto," and more in opulent style)--to bottom (the exquisite young, silvery soprano Ying Fang as Servilia and mezzo Emily D'Angelo, bringing a glint of steel to Annio), the cast delivered in every way possible.

Review: Mozart's CLEMENZA DI TITO Brings Best Cast of Season to Met
Joyce DiDonato and Elza van den Heever.
Photo: Jonathan Tichler/Met Opera

And that doesn't include bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Publio, luxury casting in what might be a throwaway role in lesser hands, bringing out the best in his rolling, suave voice.

Best of all for me, perhaps, was soprano Elza van den Heever as the "villain" of the piece (until she turns the corner and repents), shining brightly in a role that doesn't quite offer her the showstopping quality of her last Mozart outing at the Met--Elettra in IDOMENEO--but makes up with it in quantity, though none better than "Non piu di fiori."

Review: Mozart's CLEMENZA DI TITO Brings Best Cast of Season to Met
Ying Fang and Emily D'Angelo.
Photo: Richard Termine/Met Opera

This was Mozart's last opera (DIE ZAUBERFLOTE premiered later but was written first) and he made the most of it, filling it to the rafters with melody upon melody (26 numbers!), in every kind of configuration, for every one of the characters.

He certainly knew how to write for all varieties of the female voice (Sesto and Annio are pants roles [the former, once a castrato], on top of the sopranos), though not skimping on music for the tenor and bass.

Review: Mozart's CLEMENZA DI TITO Brings Best Cast of Season to Met
Matthew Polenzani. Photo:
Jonathan Tichler/Met Opera

Sure, he didn't bother writing the continuo music for [what seemed like] the endless recitatives, leaving that to his student Sussmayr (who would later finish the Requiem after Mozart's death). He could be forgiven, however, for lavishing his genius elsewhere in the piece.

The Met orchestra was in fine form under Lothar Koenigs, with particular kudos for the clarinet and basset-horn solos from Inn-Hyuck Cho, in "Parto..." and "Non piu di fiori," and the chorus did an admirable job, particularly in Act II, under Donald Palumbo.

That brings me to the subject of the production: Would anyone really mind if the Met saved a few bucks and presented TITO in concert form, cutting some of that non-Mozart music and convoluted story and getting right down to what everyone's there for: that long lineup of arias? Think of it like City Center's Encores! Series, which presents works with songs worth hearing that are basically unstageable, paring down the books (aka "libretti") to workable versions.

Mozart may have been a genius when he was composing but his judgment about libretti was something else, even in his greatest scores. COSI? The libretto's unforgiveable. Even DON GIOVANNI is a bit of a mess outside of...well, every sublime note of music written for it. This one, by Caterino Mazzola based on an oldie by Pietro Metastasio, may be fine at heart, but doesn't move very well in its opera seria style. And I'm not sure how timely it is, except as a remembrance of things past, when we have an "emperor" who doesn't worry about having his principles tested...because he has none.

There's been much talk about whether the opera is due for a new production at the Met. Put it in the hands of a great director--who might that be? (No shiny thing from the theatre, please)--and maybe it could be seen in a new light. But Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's version of ancient Rome (with his own sets) could be put in mothballs without any tears from me, though the costumes (also Ponnelle) could liven up a concert version--including a few laughs for the wigs designed for Tito and Publio.

There will be additional performances of LA CLEMENZA DI TITO on April 6, 11, 16 and the matinee of April 20.

Curtain times vary: complete schedule here. Running time is just under three hours, with one intermission.

Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting

Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of La Clemenza di Tito are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.


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