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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
La clemenza di Tito (1791)
Stefan Dahlberg (tenor) – Tito; Anita Soldh (soprano) – Vitellia; Lani Poulson (mezzo) – Sesto; Pia-Marie Nilsson (soprano) – Servilia; Maria Höglund (soprano) – Annio; Jerker Arvidson (bass) – Publio
Chorus and Orchestra of the Drottningholm Court Theatre/Arnold Östman
Stage Director: Göran Järvefelt
Costumes: Börje Eldh and Göran Järvefelt
Lighting: Yngve Mansvik and Torkel Blomkvist
Directed and Produced for TV and Video by Thomas Olofsson
Recorded live at the Drottningholm Court Theatre in 1987
ARTHAUS MUSIC 102 009 DVD [128:00]


Hard upon the heels of the 2003 Salzburg production, directed by Martin Kušej and conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (see review), here comes an almost twenty-year-old production from the Drottningholm Court Theatre, under the direction of Göran Järvefelt and with Arnold Östman in the “pit” - There is no real pit at Drottningholm – the orchestra seated on the same level as the front rows of the audience and separated from them by a simple fence. The contrast could hardly be greater.
 
While Kušej has transported the action from ancient Rome to a doll’s house look-alike performed in present-day costumes, unblushingly erotic and with a modern orchestra (the Vienna Phil), Järvefelt has tried – and managed – to recreate a performance that Mozart and his contemporaries would have recognized. Thus the carefully restored 18th century theatre still uses the original sceneries and machinery, beautiful period costumes and the singers act according to 18th century convention – stylized gestures to be sure but agreeable to watch – and this does not exclude strong feelings and dramatic expression. The stage is narrow but deep and Järvefelt makes admirable use of the space or lack of it. Colours are subdued though in perfect harmony. This is still a colourful performance, since people are frequently appearing - chorus and extras - for pomp and circumstance. I never saw this production live but I am convinced that the experienced Thomas Olofsson made the most of the opportunities and the resulting film is indeed truly beautiful.
 
The orchestra, bewigged and in period costumes, play authentic instruments, rendering the music an extra edge that makes it sound more modern and more incisive than the smoothed out sounds, however beautiful, of the Vienna Phil. The actual sounds of the instruments is one factor; the phrasing, less legato, more airy, further emphasised by the somewhat dry acoustics of the wooden building, another; Östman’s conducting, swift, unfussy, a third. Where Harnoncourt, for all his eminent qualities, presents a romanticized Mozart, at times verging on the lethargic, Östman is eager and more dramatic, and there is a startling impact when the brass announce the arrival of a procession. Taken as a whole this performance is an entity, the visual and sonic qualities speaking the same language, where sounds and the pictures of the Salzburg production jar against each other. Others may feel differently of course, but as far as authenticity goes I can’t imagine La clemenza di Tito closer to the mark than this Drottningholm version.
 
So far I have not mentioned the singing, and those who have already read my review of the Salzburg set will know that it is luxuriously cast with international big names doing their utmost. Östman’s Scandinavian cast, although hardly household names outside Sweden, are, just as accomplished and in the intimate Drottningholm surroundings they make a splendid team, vocally and dramatically.
 
Anita Soldh, for many years a mainstay of the Stockholm Opera in a wide variety of roles, is a splendid Vitellia and every facet of this complicated character is vividly conveyed through her facial expressions, even more telling in the close-ups of the cameras than when seen live in the theatre. Having heard her on innumerable occasions live, I doubt that she has sung better than this. It may be unfair to pick an individual number in preference to others that are on the same level however her great recitative and rondo in act II, the one with the clarinet obbligato, is really masterly – both as acting and singing. In the latter respect she even challenges her compatriot Hillevi Martinpelto on the recent DG/Mackerras recording (see review). Both sopranos incidentally come from the same province of Sweden, Dalecarlia, where also Jussi Björling was born. Pia-Marie Nilsson in the other female role, as Servilia, is charming, sings with great lyrical beauty. Her brother Sesto is also sung by a woman and this is one of the great roles for a mezzo. Kasarova for Harnoncourt and Kozena for Mackerras are world-stars and magnificent they are, but the comparatively little known Lani Poulson runs them close. She sings a formidable Parto, parto in act I and hers is a powerful reading of the part. Her acting may be over-emphatic at times but this is soon forgotten when the singing is on such an exalted level. The versatile Maria Höglind turns in a fine Annio, again with singing from the top drawer. Her looks and acting are so graceful that even hearts of stone should melt at the mere sight of her.
 
Jerker Arvidsson, at about this time a splendid Hans Sachs in Stockholm, is an authoritative Publio. Stefan Dahlberg as the eponymous hero sings with honeyed lyricism but also shows that he was soon to go on to more lirico spinto parts. Rarely has the aria Ah, se fosse intorno al trono been delivered with such bounce, bite and brio as here, unless it be on Domingo’s Mozart recital on EMI. Dahlberg is in fact a much more idiomatic Mozartean.
 
I have nothing but praise for the quality of sound and pictures, the booklet has a good track list and no less than 47 index points. There are good notes by Volkmar Fischer.
 
While enjoying the singing in the Harnoncourt/Kušej set as a total experience that is more in tune with the music this Drottningholm production takes pride of place in my collection of La clemenza di Tito.
 
Göran Forsling
 

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