Opera in the Heights Wins with the Rare LA CLEMENZA DI TITO
Houston's Opera in the Heights impresses with a handsome production of one of Mozart's rarely performed operas. LA CLEMENZA DI TITO, written in 1791 a few months before his death, was a last minute commission for the coronation of Austrian Emperor Leopold II as King of Bavaria. Using an Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzola after Metastasio, the commission called for Mozart's return to the outdated genre of opera seria.
LA CLEMENZA is a dramatic tale of power and politics, love and betrayal, clemency and loneliness. It tells the story of the Roman emperor Titus and his inclination for granting clemency to any and all transgressors. His generosity is sorely tested when his trusted friend Sesto confesses to having joined an assassination plot against him, coerced into it by the seductive, conniving Vitellia who seeks vengeance.
Mozart wrote music in which the humanity of his characters could be explored. Each character sheds light on their individual motivations and makes significant statements for themselves. An outstanding cast balances care for the musical beauties of their vocal lines with complete characterizations.
Soprano Celeste Fraser is Vitella. Playing the opera's femme fatale she gives a truly authoritative performance filled with gratifying moments of intensity. Vocally Fraser shows off her powerfully sumptuous voice with an impressive top range. Dramatically she is captivating with her manipulative persona yet is even more so with her character's transformation. Delivering a standout rendition of the aria, "Non più di fiori", Fraser captures the essence of Vitella's crippling self-doubt and makes her a deeply compelling character.
In the trouser role of Sesto, mezzo-soprano Vera Savage sings and acts brilliantly. Savage paints a convincing portrait of a man torn between loyalty to Emperor Tito and his misplaced infatuation with the vengeful Vitellia.. She has a handsomely glowing voice that soars on her arias and also embodies the great emotion of Sesto's torment with moving restraint.
Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Crippen displays a lot of grace and vocal agility singing in the other trouser role of Annio. The lustrous quality of Crippen's voice is evident in her every solo and ensemble number, but it is the degree of precision along with emotional urgency that creates an especially vivid portrayal of Annio.
Theodora Cottarel's Servilia is played with care and grace. Armed with confidence and purity of tone, Cottarel's precisely wielded power lends to her delicateness. Her singing is thoroughly enjoyable and the expression of solid warmth is neatly articulated through her emotions.
Zach Averyt sings the title role of Tito. Taking on his role with aplomb, he is convincing as the conflicted Emperor Tito. Singing with agility, his splendid tenor voice possesses a robust foundation laced with gleaming bronze overtones. With singing and acting in excellent form, his struggle between duty and compassion is powerful.
Justin Hopkins is excellent as Publio. His presentation is very much the unfaltering, righteous Roman and he sings most attractively with his dark baritone voice.
Great performances aren't just limited to the named characters. The chorus is also a delight. Nicely balanced with good blend and easy amplitude, they help create an intense and striking atmosphere. In addition, Dr. Eiki Isomura conducts with finesse and the orchestra radiantly delivers sound of the highest quality.
The staging and set of LA CLEMENZA all blends together with simplicity and intrigue. The set, comprised of a few very versatile box set pieces, is entirely covered in a decoupage of newspapers articles. The effect is a welcome one and goes well with the modern costumes of the cast. Keturah Stickann and Jeremiah Minh Grünblatt respectively, as stage director and production designer, have succeeded in showing how themes of this piece traverse into modern times.
Mozart's infrequently performed LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is well-done by Opera in the Heights. From start to finish, their LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is a marvelous work, filled with beautiful, emotive singing, accompanied by an orchestral performance that is sumptuous and dynamic, all working together to bring forth every possible nuance in Mozart's music. The entire performance including intermission is 2 hours and 35 minutes long. It is well-worth every second of it.
Opera in the Heights' LA CLEMENZA DI TITO runs at Lambert Hall through February 8, 2015. For more information or tickets, please visit http://operaintheheights.org or call (713) 861 - 5303.
Photo credit: Deji Osinulu Photography