|Russell Thomas as Titus|
Despite being billed as The Clemency of Titus, the production uses the all-Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, based on an earlier libretto by Pietro Metastasio. The translated title might be a way of making the work feel more accessible for an English-speaking audience. And even though its English surtitles lend an air of modern language usage that occasions the odd comic response, director and set designer Thaddeus Strassberger acknowledges its original Ancient Rome setting, albeit deceiving the eye with sprinklings of neo-classical detail.
An impressive portal in an elegant architecture of freely employed classical elements and enough gold leaf detailing to draw oohs and aahs frames Strassberger’s saturated ancient exoticism. Lit up in a big-budget cocktail of colourful costume excess by Mattie Ullrich, JAX Messenger’s deliciously moody lighting and Greg Emetaz’s projections of neo-classical art, the many stage tableaux indeed strike powerfully. But lavishing the audience with an indulgent concoction of the ancient past doesn’t make the work any more accessible - and the longer in front of it, the more false it felt.
|James Creswell as Publio and Russell Thomas as Titus|
Still, for all the spectacle, what outshone most were the voices and music, all of which breathed utterly freely and satisfyingly. Just what was achieved with textural vibrancy and attentively punctuated phrasing in the overture, conductor James Conlon maintained over its two acts. The L.A. Opera Orchestra heeded the baton master excellently with faultless playing that exposed the beauty of the score and supported the singers well.
|Elizabeth DeShong as Sesto and Taylor Raven as Annio|
Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong was stellar in the pants (that fit perfectly) role of Sesto. Matching exhilarating expressive vocal variety to every change in circumstance, DeShong’s passionate and troubled Sesto deservedly earned the mercy granted by Titus. In love with Vitellia and putty in her hands, DeShong’s confidently placed ornamentations added believable bite to Sesto’s thoughts and declarations. In agreeing to murder Titus, the words “I will be what you want me to be” became heartfelt and near-tragic in DeShong’s grasp as part of one of the opera’s many gorgeous arias, “Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio”. With DeShong, Stuart Clark’s dashing, willowy basset horn accompaniment shared the spotlight.
As Vitellia, there was no holding back the vengeance with potent soprano Guanqun Yu in her solid opening duet with DeShong’s Sesto, “Come ti piace, imponi”. But in seeing Sesto accept punishment for his actions, Vitellia’s remorse breaks through and Yu captures it in class in Act 2’s “Non più di fiori” to further consoling basset horn playing, spoiled, however, by maidens handling her trailing red veil.
|Guanqun Yu as Vitellia|
The rich mix of duets and trios that stud the score were sung with focus and effectiveness, recitatives drove interest and the L.A. Opera Chorus beefed up the soundscape impressively. With just five more performances remaining, it’s definitely worth going and sinking yourself into the extravagance but, like me, you might be far more blown away by the voices and music than all its gold.
The Clemency of Titus
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, L.A. Music Centre
Until 24th March 2019
Production Photos: Cory Weaver