In 2005 Teodor Currentzis was quoted by The Telegraph as saying, “I am going to save classical music. Give me five or ten years.” Legendary conductors such as Maazel or von Karajan, who were not exactly celebrated for their self-effacement, never made such an extraordinary claim. Having done so, Currentzis has invoked the judgment of the Furies and the result is a decidedly hung jury. Whilst the level of excitement he creates with both performers and audiences is indisputable, the liberties he takes with scores and orchestration in the guise of “spirituality” invariably overshadow his remarkable talents. The temerity to re-orchestrate Mozart scores, cut huge chunks of the partitura and even worse, insert utterly unrelated pieces of music into a masterfully completed opera is unlikely to propitiate the music deities.

Anna Lucia Richter (Servilia), Stéphanie d’Oustrac (sesto) and Karina Gauvin (Vitellia) © Lukasz Rajchert
Anna Lucia Richter (Servilia), Stéphanie d’Oustrac (sesto) and Karina Gauvin (Vitellia)
© Lukasz Rajchert

As the closing performance of the 52nd Andrzej Markowski International Wratislavia Cantans Festival in Wrocław and coming straight from Salzburg, La clemenza di Tito was eagerly anticipated. What was presented however was not Mozart’s penultimate opera but Clemenza à la Currentzis.

There was one small blessing. Performed in concert form, at least the good people of Wrocław were spared the banalities of Peter Sellars’ terrorists-and-refugees Salzburg production. This meant that the entire focus was on the literally towering presence of the Greek/Russian maestro. When not prancing, prowling, leaping or tap-dancing around the stage, Currentzis moved so distractingly close to the soloists it was as if Dr Miracle had gone AWOL from Les Contes d’Hoffmann.  

That said, Currentzis has a remarkably effective batonless conducting technique and there was some outstanding singing and electrifying playing from the MusicAeterna Orchestra and Choir. There were moments of extraordinary beauty and profound insight, albeit for the most part in the six interpolated sections. The Act 1 concertante finale with repeated “Tradimento” imprecations was terrifying powerful and brilliantly sung.

With the dubious justification that the unaccompanied recitatives were in all likelihood not written by Mozart but rather his pupil Süssmayr, Currentzis in purist mode either severely truncated or removed them entirely. This made the profound moral dilemma explored in Tito’s “Se all impero, amici Dei” aria meaningless as the proceeding “Dove s’intese mal” recitative was left in the shredder. In fact, much of Tito’s music disappeared altogether, including “Basta, basta o miei fidi” in Scene 4 and “Che orror! Che tradimento” in Scene 7. This meant that the pivotal figure of the opera was little more than a one dimensional caricature of occasional kindness. Maximilian Schmitt did well with what little remained from the score, singing with a lyric, nuanced timbre not dissimilar to Anthony Rolfe Johnson.

Jeanine De Bique (Annio) © Lukasz Rajchert
Jeanine De Bique (Annio)
© Lukasz Rajchert

Apart from the venerable Willard White who sounded more like Osmin than Publio, the cast was completely different to that heard in Salzburg a month before. As Annio, Jeanine De Bique was slightly metallic in vocal colour but excelled in the Kyrie from the C minor Mass which opened Act 2 instead of the “Sesto come tu credi” recitative. This meant the dramatically important news that the Emperor did not die in the insurrection was never relayed. Displaying a limpid tone and even vocal line, Anna Lucia Richter sang an endearing Servilia although the soprano looked decidedly uncomfortable when Currentzis came within a few centimetres of her face to mould the phrasing he wanted. “S’altro che lagrime” was sung with commendable legato and sensitivity. The exquisite “Ah perdona al primo affetto” duet with Annio was marred by intrusive accompaniment from the fortepiano and excessive ornamentation. The basso continuo, which for some inexplicable reason included an un-Mozartian theorbo, was excessively florid throughout and the fortepiano not only accompanied what few recitativi secchi were left but recapitulated several melodic themes in subsequent passages. This was Mozart opera with leitmotifs.

Karina Gauvin sang the viperous Vitellia with reasonable conviction but not always perfect intonation. The top B naturals in “Deh, se piacer mi vuoi” were merely proximate while the low G natural chest notes in “Non più di fiori” lacked resonance. The most impressive performance came from Stéphanie d’Oustrac singing the psychologically complex role of Sesto, who dealt with the octave plus leaps and sustained top G naturals in “Parto, parto”. The basset clarinettist played the virtuosic obbligato solo beside d’Oustrac as if a solo riff in a big band concert. A Currentzis trademark is indulgent portamenti and extremes of tempi and the endless fermata on “Guardemi” was so extenuated the aria seemed to grind to a halt.

Not content with the gloriously uplifting “Eterni Dei, vegliate” concluding chorus in C major, Currentzis finished this truly bizarre Mozartian pot-pourri with the Mauerische Trauermusik in C minor, creating a totally erroneous dramaturgical and harmonic resolution. Born Greek, maestro Currentzis should know the meaning, and consequences, of hubris.   

**111