Teatro San Carlo in Naples new opening with La clemenza di Tito
Teatro San Carlo in Naples is the oldest opera house in Europe. Built in 1737, it celebrated its 250 anniversary ten years before Scala was only 200! And in these years it has been constantly active also in war years; it has never ceased to produce operas and music.
Very much loved by Neapolitans’ opera lovers, because of financial problems the house had to face several difficulties in and its reputation has been has been pulled down. Last legendary seasons were in the 1950s, when not only Maria Callas had one of her greatest achievements (her only Nabucco) and sang in the house until 1956, when Renata Tebaldi found her home, after she left Scala, and conductors such as Karl Böhm visited Teatro San Carlo nearly every year, and feeled at home there, appreciated for his
Wagner performances and others.
Moreover, the house needed huge renewal works both for structural and functional reasons. So it has been closed from July to December both in 2008 and 2009, when regular seasons could take place only in the first half of the year, even if with a reduced number of performances.
Now also these reneval works are finished and San Carlo is back, more beautiful than before and technically in forefront: new rehearsal rooms, and new space for ballet, – let’s pay a tribute for having reinforced classical dance, when other major houses in Italy have cut it off-, and its stall and boxes are magnificent in white and gold, so vivid as they had never been seen in the past.
Unfortunately, State manager Nastasi, who has the task to drive San Carlo out of its difficulties, has said that the theatre now is in financially in order, and can look at the future with optimism, but for the moment can’t program not even ‘seven operas per season’. We hope he’s wrong: this would mean to deny the main function of a theatre: To produce music and culture for its audience as often as it’s possible.
Waiting for the future, let’s enjoy this season’s opening with Mozart’s’ La clemenza di Tito, a title never really familiar to the audience all over the world.
There is a certain connection between Naples and this opera: its Italian première took place in Theatro San Carlo, in 1809.
Under its academic surface, that seems cold as the marble of a neoclassical statue, the opera talks of the most human of feelings: Deceptions, betrayed love, disappointment, jealousy and, at last, forgiveness and love. Behind this opera, or at its side, it’s easy to recognize Don Giovanni, Requiem, The Flute, and the opera shows signs of modernity, both in the ‘direct’ style of the libretto and in the music, specially the start without chorus or introductive arias, but straight in the plot with a recitative.
This ‘passion’ in background and such modernity needed to be matched by the orchestra, but unfortunately it hasn’t been so in this San Carlo production.
The great British conductor Jeffrey Tate has been music director in Teatro San Carlo for the last five years. Now his contract is over and this Clemenza has been Jeffrey Tate’s last engagement for San Carlo. In these years he has won the hearts of the audience in Naples: Under his baton the orchestra has definitely improved and now they are used to a much wider repertoire than before.
Even this time Tate’s conduction has been very clean, sharp and accurate, and the orchestra gave a splendid performance, as it’s been the usual standard under Tate.
But something was lacking: In ‘Tito’ there is drama, fire and an unbroken tension, more tense as the opera goes on. Here, at the contrary, the general tone was subdued and uniform, the most dramatic moments weren’t stressed and the opera has been played with a placid slowness without character.
This was especially evident in the famous Act 1 Finale, the real climax of the opera, where nothing left us feels that we were in the real climax of the opera. The notes were well played but where was the drama? The playing was monotone and slow, hard to suspect that in that moment the opera had its climax. Tate’s conducting wasn’t even able to highlight the throbs hidden in the score, mirroring the conflicts in the characters’ souls.
Luckily enough, an excellent cast of young singers could make up of all this: Considering their age it was easy to identify them with their roles. All of them had understood very well their characters Moreover, almost all the singers were Italians, and this granted not only a good diction, but that they knew how to pronounce every word, being able to give sense to what they sang, and speaking of this, they were all to appreciate for their crystal-clear diction.
The only stranger in cast, Gregory Kunde sings and speaks in perfect Italian. Thanks to his noble phrasing, the tenor knows how to express both the Emperor’s authority and the man’s affection.
Kunde has still a class of his own, his dark voice, dry in tone, holds well the texture of the part, losing body only in the low register and in the high notes, not always well centered.
Vitellia was Teresa Romano, a young soprano whose voice is beautiful and light in the center. Also her lower notes were good, as it was possible to hear in well-sung ‘Non più di fiori’, her great moment. Her critical points were the high notes: The more her voice goes high, the more gets thinner and the effort is evident with unpleasant sounds. As for her acting, being so young the young soprano has showed personality and character, at ease on stage she’s been able to express with subtle expressivity the inconstant Vitellia.
Monica Bacelli has been very good. Her dark mezzo sounds muted and husky, and at first can let the audience puzzled. Technically faultless, she has focused perfectly her Sesto, making the most of her vocal gift. Almost perfect every entry, a flowing irreprehensible singing, her timbre always homogenous and excellent in the softer tones and the lowering. Maybe the character has been more than tragic in his torments, but Bacelli became the audience’s favourite and the one who got the most applause.
Francesca Russo Ermolli was very good as Annio. Her voice is crystal-clear and bright, and she was singing with colour and character, more in the arias than in the recitatives, where the style seemed more monotonous.
Vito Priante is Publio, with sinister insinuating accents, maybe not perfectly fitting the character but very well sung. Priante has a first class baritone, a voice full of warm tunes rich in harmonics and expressivity at every level.
Elena Monti has been the sorrowful Servilia, specially appreciated in her plea to Vitellia, ‘S’altro che lacrime. Monti has an elegant stage presence fitting her character, she has also a singing line clear and well controlled. She received big applause.
Choir master is Salvatore Caputo
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. Comically, the ensemble was dressed so to recall the prisoners in Fidelio
. In their first number, ‘Serbate o dei custodi’ they lost often the touch with the orchestra, with some delay in their entries. Later, in act1 Finale, choir has been kept hidden behind the scenes, so that their stentorian calls (Tradimento) were almost inedible, already in first rows, and much of the pathos of this great moment was kept away.
This Clemenza di Tito has been the first stage direction created expressly for San Carlo by Luca Ronconi, one of the most famous theatre directors in Italy, both for drama and opera.
His stage direction is very good for the immediateness and the spontaneity in the acting of the young artists. Moreover, the young age made them easy to identify with their characters.
Ronconi has seen the protagonists almost as a group of friends and has left them free to express themselves with a modern, fast and straight-forwarding acting.
Not everything works well: It wasn’t a good idea to show the mild intimacy between Tito and Berenice and their separation, while Sesto and Vitellia sing the first scene of the opera, and moreover it has seemed ingenuous to symbolize the power just with a gigantic armchair where Kunde must sing the most of the time, sitting down or standing on it! And only in the viewpoint of a ‘claustrophobic’ chamber drama as it was, one can find coherent to give fire to the 1800s chandelier instead of the Capitol!
But everyday reality not always works well. Especially when we have to do with an Emperor. So, the mercifulness and the indulgence towards the guiltiness have a different meaning and scenic effects if it comes from an Emperor instead of from a common man. Actually, only in the end Tito gets back some of his royal greatness, but for the rest of the opera it was lost, and a good sign of his lost of authority are the suppressed laughter in the audience at the end, when he discovers how unfaithful his friends had been one after the other, and utters: ‘What a day, after I’ve acquitted a guilty, there’s a new one’, as it was a parody moment.
Scenes by Margherita Palli, usually in team with Ronconi, showed colossal walls similar to quilted tissue, these walls close the scene on three sides and one of them comes slowly down during Final Act 1, but hardly someone in the audience could understand the meaning of it. What was really disturbing was the noise made by the machine which moved it.
Just a few furniture on the stage: Basically some old-style chair and, as mentioned, a huge one for Tito’s imperial authority.
The costumes were designed by the famous couturier Emanuel Ungaro, He did a great job entering in the spirit of the opera with gowns in 1700s style, each one was fitting the character: elegant and elaborate for Vitellia, simple and sober for Sesto, restrict and rigorous for Publio etc.
Unfortunately there were some empty places in the house, and at the end no big ovation, but polite applause for all the cast, with a special warm one for Monica Bacelli.
Maybe this was to be expected with a not popular, opera but was a pity indeed for a selected staging as this was.
Next in the season will be Gaetano Donizettis opera Maria Stuarda in March. based on Friedrich von Schillers tragedy. Composed in 1834, First premiered at La Scala, Milano, Italy, December 30, 1835.