This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tradition has it that La clemenza di Tito is an undramatic opera—written, the books say, in haste and ill-health, and cast in an antiquated form, to meet a commission that the impoverished Mozart could not afford to refuse. Well, best to forget all that; it was written with the same refinement of technique, the same mastery of musical drama, as informed Mozart's other operas. But its dramatic world is a different one, and not merely retrospective. This recording of the opera, however, bears the mark of an older conductor, one who takes a conservative view of the work, and who does not direct it as if it were live musical theatre.
In saying that, I am not speaking negatively of this set. Indeed the statuesque approach of Karl
Böhm in many ways makes better sense than an approach that attempts to superimpose modern, or even romantic, ideas of musical drama on this Metastasio opera seria which, for Mozart, was 'reduced to make a true opera". I do wish, however, that the recording engineers had made a little more effort to give us the atmosphere of a real performance. There is never a sound that is not purely musical—we do not, for example, hear the characters enter, or draw their swords, nor do we hear Titus sign (still less tear up) Sextus's death warrant. There are no distance effects, and the placing of characters on the stereo stage is restrained. All this is of a piece with the conducting, which, if it is not actually undramatic, nevertheless concentrates on other things than pressing the drama home (the fiery and urgent treatment of the first part of the Act 1 finale is to some extent exceptional). Yet, much as I admire Tito as musical theatre, I have to say that I find Böhm's restraint very rewarding. His tempi are nearly all of them slow, and the weight and gravity of the music is strongly emphasized. In Act 2 particularly, where one might expect the action to demand rather more forward movement, Böhm's Olympian calm remains unruffled. The chorus early in the act, for example, where the Romans greet with relief their emperor, safe after the firing of the Capitol, has a quiet, prayer-like nobility; the trio that precedes it (in which Sextus is arrested) is stately and measured; and the two great rondo arias for the prima donna ("Non pin di flori") and the prinso uomo ("Deh, per questo istante solo") have a classical poise that properly represents, respectively, Vitellia's awe at the gravity of her decision to confess the truth and Sextus's nobility in his refusal to betray her. Sometimes Böhm surely takes the statuesque too far. No one could possibly accept that the tempo he sets for Servilia's charming aria is a tempo di minuetto, which is what Mozart asked for, or that the speed of the G major music heralding the closing ensemble scene is amenable to marching, which clearly it is intended to be. Still, this remains a very grand and spacious view of the work, and it is admirably executed by the Dresden orchestra, a highly responsive ensemble with a string section of particular refinement and distinction and wind players who are precise and unaffected (and arc treated by the balance engineers with a generosity appropriate for a Mozart opera). The only serious weakness lies in the recitative continuo playing, with a heavy-handed harpsichordist and a sustaining cello; most of the recitative that is given is pedantically delivered, and of course appoggiaturas are far too rare. In fact, a good deal is cut, as usual in this opera, the justification being that it is lengthy and of indifferent quality, and almost certainly not Mozart's own work; but some of the cuts here remove significant interchanges, and some create awkward joins.
Where this cast scores most strongly over its rivals is in the male roles. Theo Adam, no less, sings the small part of Publius, and duly delivers his one aria in distinguished fashion, neatly phrased and in live, characterful tone. Then there is Peter Schreier in the title role. Here and there, and especially in the recitative, he is apt to produce an unpleasingly nasal sound; but his lyrical singing is in a class of its own for control and mellifluousness. Titus's music is not the best in Mozart's score; but Schreier makes it constantly interesting, giving shape and personality to the rather formal "Ah, se fosse intorno", showing really beautiful control in "Del pin sublime solgio", and singing with much finesse in the central section, especially, of his Act 2 aria. In the recitative he tends to be too metrical, and his Italian is often Germanic (that all-too-familiar "kvesto", for example).
Julia Varady makes a suitably tense and dramatic Vitellia, even in her recitative. Often she almost spits the music out: a powerful characterization, this, suggesting a woman of sufficient vitality and sexual electricity to provide the motivation of the plot. Her singing is not spotlessly clean in that difficult first aria (nor is anyone's on record), and on high notes her vowels sometimes distort. She has the strong low notes called for in "Non pin di fiori", and a proper edge to her tone. Dame Janet Baker's reading on the Davis/Philips set may be more agreeable to listen to, and in some ways more accomplished; but Miss Varady's interpretation as such does not suffer by the comparison, either with Dame Janet or with Maria Casula's more similar reading on the Kertesz/Decca set.
Teresa Berganza, as Sextus, gives a performance of some distinction. She sang this role on the Kertesz recording, however, and I do not think this new version is altogether an improvement. The voice itself seems gentler and rounder—uncertain virtues in the interpretation of a castrato part—and although the control is good there are hints of insecurity that one does not find on the earlier version, where the tempi impose less strain (in the slow music of "Deh, per questo istante solo", for example). On the Philips recording Yvonne Minton, though not always absolutely perfect in intonation, gives a more forceful and masculine reading. Nevertheless Miss Berganza's very musical performance gives much pleasure; and there is no want of drama in the accompanied recitative close to the end of Act l. Edith Mathis's Annius (a part originally intended for a woman, not a castrato) is carefully and very expressively sung, with no apparent attempt to suggest that this is a man she is impersonating. The top register consistently sounds strained. Servilia's music is done with due sweetness by Marga Schiml.
I have enjoyed this Set a great deal, and especially have welcomed the chance to relish the opera in leisurely fashion. Certainly the music has something to gain from conducting to broad and spacious. It has something to lose, too, one has to admit; and I rather think that those who aren't quite sure about La clemenza di Tito may find either of the earlier versions more persuasive, perhaps Cohn Davis's most of all, with its extra ounce of dramatic vitality and the strong performances of Baker and Minton. But for those who need no persuasion Böhm may well be the right answer, and I rather think that the classical serenity he brings to Mozart's last opera may make this version the one I shall turn to the most often myself.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [9/1979]
Includes full libretto.
Works on This Recording
La clemenza di Tito, K 621 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Theo Adam (Bass),
Marga Schiml (Mezzo Soprano),
Teresa Berganza (Mezzo Soprano),
Edith Mathis (Soprano),
Peter Schreier (Tenor),
Marga Schiml (Alto),
Theo Adam (Bass Baritone),
Julia Varády (Soprano)
Leipzig Radio Chorus
Written: 1791; Prague
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