A Glyndebourne visit has long been a regular feature of the Proms, a valued contribution in the operatic offerings that besprinkle summer at the Royal Albert Hall. This year’s production was a reduced version of Claus Guth’s two-tiered staging of La clemenza di Tito, Mozart’s final opera, often dismissed as being unworthy of the composer. Metastasio’s libretto is hardly subtle in the few points he seeks to make on government and morality, but Mozart’s typically multi-textured score is enough to add a couple of dimensions to some fairly flat characters with a series of gorgeous duets and arias.

Robin Ticciati conducts the OAE © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Robin Ticciati conducts the OAE
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The Glyndebourne production divided the stage into two levels: a stark first floor executive office from which a corporate Titus runs his empire and deals with the upper echelons of society and a lower storey of grass and corn, an invasion of nature. It’s not a concept that particularly appealed to me and in the reduced staging with a few clumps of corn on the ground floor and a curiously multipurpose hunk of rock, even less so, with Titus’ foray into scything reminiscent of some kind of dodgy corporate away day. Most effective is the early dismissal of the Judean queen, Berenice, colourful coat a blatant contrast to the bland uniformity of Titus’ plain suited court, which suffered from extremely questionable hand choreography, veering from pop audience to something out of High School Musical. There was perhaps an over-reliance among the principals on removing and replacing jackets and coats which became distracting.

Anna Stéphany (Sesto) © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Anna Stéphany (Sesto)
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Of the cast, Anna Stéphany made the biggest splash in the original production as Sesto, and in this concert, she gave a repeat performance that demonstrated a pure, cleanly articulated mezzo-soprano. Her “Parto, parto” was the highlight of the evening, even in tone and with pinpoint coloratura, while her acting was generally spot on, the gait and stance studiously masculine. Alice Coote’s Vitellia was a little more touch and go in credibility; there seemed to be more nuance to her portrayal in the second half whereas her acting in the first act seemed a little uninspired. Vocally though, she was a dynamic performer, attacking both ends of the voice with a fiery enthusiasm that made one ignore a slight dryness at the top.

Richard Croft was my second pick of the night. His Tito took a little while to warm up and the higher register seemed to suffer from a degree of strain, but the expressive lyricism of Croft's voice was memorable and, more than the rest of the cast, he seemed to find the life in the recitative, notwithstanding one or two dubious tempi. His acting successfully conveyed the weariness of a monarch who faces the prospect of executing those dear to him, shoulders slouched, features heavy. A richly voiced Clive Bayley brought a touch of oil to Publius, becoming increasingly sinister in demeanour as the opera went on; a change from smart coat to military jacket as Titus’ clemency was celebrated at the end hinted at the prospect of a coup. Michèle Losier sang Annio with sweet silkiness that placed expression over vigour opposite Joélle Harvey’s pale-toned Servilia, the latter suffering from slightly static stage movements.

Alice Coote (Vitellia) © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Alice Coote (Vitellia)
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Robin Ticciati drew a performance from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment that varied in strength; a bristling overture with gritty string playing was a splendid opening, but it was the consistent quality of the woodwind that offered the most enjoyment.