L'Opéra de Paris revived Willy Decker's La clemenza di Tito at the Palais Garnier in a minimalistic production. The main presence on stage was a large, curved, marmoreal vault that enclosed the action and provided a much appreciated projection-enhancing background for the singers. As the story progressed, the towering block of marble was slowly carved into a gigantic bust representing Titus. The costumes were in 17th- or 18th-century style, and the chorus seemed to have stepped out of a Velázquez painting (except for the wild, tall headdresses). The chorus sang from backstage on many occasions, which was an unfortunate decision. This was particularly disappointing in the first finale, where their muffled lines, "Tradimento!", which should be a scream of horror and a denunciation of the treason, did not come through with the necessary sharpness; this softened effect almost ruined one of the opera's best musical scenes.

Ramòn Vargas (Tito) © Sébastien Mathé | Opéra national de Paris
Ramòn Vargas (Tito)
© Sébastien Mathé | Opéra national de Paris

The white-grey marble setting, together with the absence of the chorus, gave the opera a sense of intimate introspection; the characters interacted more with themselves than with one another, giving a feeling of a gigantic self-help session. A few objects were scattered on the stage to naively symbolize various events or feelings: red flowers for marriage, a dagger for vengeance, rope for Sesto's execution, and a paper crown to signify imperial power.

Dan Ettinger conducted the Orchestra de l’Opéra de Paris with a detailed, albeit somewhat generic, reading of the score. The orchestra accompanied the ceremonies and the processions sumptuously, lightening the touch in the more delicate moments. Ettinger rose to the occasion when Ramón Vargas, as Tito, seemed to lose his place in the aria "Se all'impero", quickly helping him back on track. Ettinger could not assist other aspects of Vargas’ performance, however. His bold tenor seemed a bit strained at the top, and his coloratura was too slow for the part. He did manage to convey his tenderness towards Sesto and the burden that imperial power represents for Tito.

Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Sesto) and Ramón Vargas (Tito) © Sébastien Mathé | Opéra national de Paris
Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Sesto) and Ramón Vargas (Tito)
© Sébastien Mathé | Opéra national de Paris

Stéphanie d'Oustrac made a strong impression as Sesto. Her mezzo was warm, round and remarkably uniform. "Parto, parto!" was the number everybody was eagerly anticipating, and with her shiny, strong high notes and flawless coloratura, d'Oustrac did not disappoint. Her Sesto was a troubled, tormented young man, broken by his treacherous actions, incapable of recovering. Her legato, her pianissimo, and her beautiful filati during the confrontation with Tito gave a strong feeling of Sesto's remorse, of a life shattered before it even began.

Vitellia was Amanda Majeski, a soprano with confident high notes supported by a bronzed, solid middle voice. The character is unsympathetic, and Majeski did not try to make Vitellia more reasonable than Mozart and Metastasio did. She portrayed a ruthless, cruel, cunning woman, who only at the end is overwhelmed by shame and remorse, and even then, her first thought is "What will people think of me?" Her "Non più di fiori" stopped the show.

Amanda Majeski (Vitellia) © Sébastien Mathé | Opéra national de Paris
Amanda Majeski (Vitellia)
© Sébastien Mathé | Opéra national de Paris

Antoinette Dennefeld and Valentina Naforniţa were the young couple, Annio and Servilia; Dennefeld's mezzo extended comfortably in the soprano range, while Naforniţa was a fresh Servilia, with beautiful high notes. They showed good chemistry and made a convincing couple. Publio was Marko Mimica, whose voice was sometimes on the booming side and not very well amalgamated with those of his colleagues. Nevertheless, he delivered his only aria "Tardi s'avvede" with good technique and musicality, and his performance was enjoyable.

***11