Artistic Director Ian Page introduces Mozart’s ‘true’ opera
I am particularly excited to be preparing for our approaching performance of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito at Cadogan Hall – not only because it holds a special place in my heart (and is also one of a diminishing number of Mozart operas that I have never conducted before), but also because it played a specific role in encouraging me to set up Classical Opera in the first place.
My first encounter with the opera was when I saw a production in London as a student, and I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed. A couple of years later, though, I found myself assisting the baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan on a new production of the work for Scottish Opera, and my opinion was instantly transformed. The following year McGegan invited me to assist him again, this time on a far more obscure opera (Martin y Soler’s Una cosa rara) at the breathtakingly beautiful baroque theatre in Drottningholm, just outside Stockholm.
I soon recognised the value and importance of exploring such pieces on their own terms. The relatively recent renewal of interest in 18th century performance practice, in how the composers themselves conceived their music to sound, has led not only to reappraisal but effectively to the rebirth of numerous wonderful works. Whatever one’s tastes, the difference between a performance of Tito which is sensitive to the original style and conditions of the opera and one which isn’t remains vast.
With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to read special significance into the compositions of Mozart’s final months, but even with this caveat there is a gloriously rarefied and valedictory mood to the music of La clemenza di Tito. The opera’s detractors over the years have lazily dismissed it as a failed and antiquated opera seria, but Mozart himself chose to call it an ‘opera vera’, a ‘true’ opera which presents psychologically profound and musically enchanting insights into the human condition. The work includes some superb ensembles as well as some of Mozart’s greatest arias.
Despite a couple of recent withdrawals due to illness, we have assembled an ouststanding cast for our performance at Cadogan Hall. The title role is sung by Robert Murray, who sang the main role in our recent performance of Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots at Wigmore Hall, and Vitellia is sung by Gillian Ramm, whose recent engagements include Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Glyndebourne. Our Sesto is Helen Sherman, who recently became one of our Associate Artists and who represented Australia in the 2011 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
Former Associate Artist Mary Bevan is Servilia, while bass-baritone Darren Jeffery, who recently appeared with us at the Wigmore Hall New Year’s Eve Concert, sings Publio. Polish mezzo Hanna Hipp, a recent graduate of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, makes her company début as Annio. I am hugely looking forward to working with these wonderful singers, and to sharing the results of this work with you on 13 March.