If you’re going to Oslo opera to see the last performance tomorrow, don’t read this.
Sitting at work earlier today, my mother sent me an SMS message asking me whether I’d like to see Mozart’s opera Titus. A two minute notice to think about it, I shut down the computer and left work earlier than expected. Little did I know of what was in store.
This is Mozart’s very last opera. As usual, I don’t read the script or research before the show. I want to be surprised and judge it with open eyes. Which sometimes is a drag, if there’s too much symbolism.
You can read more about the opera, La Clemenza di Tito, at wikipedia.
This particular performance at The Norwegian Opera (click here for a flash teaser with music and images) lied in the hands of relatively unknown, young singers, and a master mind in opera creativity, namely Peter Konwitschny. Reading in the folder my mother bought during half-time, I was stunned by his passion for opera and the role it has in his view. He thinks opera is a tell-tale mark of our civilization, which is coming to an end, and the importance of opera must not be forgotten. He’s apparently a very controversial director, but applauded as director of the year by OpernWelt in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. Not bad, mate… But does it mean anything?
After seeing this? Yes.
The opera has only two acts, but it was more than enough to make a splendid experience for the speechless audience. The first act, having some lighting difficulties in the very beginning (which I suspect was planned), was kind of dragging itself along. I’m not going to write the story of the opera, you can do that elsewhere, but since this piece have most mezzosopranos most parts were played by girls. Who did a great job, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always hard to believe someone to be a man when (s)he’s got nice breasts. Anyway. Titus was killed, or at least I thought he was, at the end of act I. Curtain down.
Curtain up after a quick cigarette and a coffee. Rome has been put to flames, the Senate wants to know who killed the clement emperor, and after a long good-bye scene between Vitellia and Sextus, Sextus is dragged in chains to receive his judgment. At this point, someone in the audience wanted to find his place. It was the emperor! He had a seat at the front row. From "the other side" he received the praise of the people and participated in the singing. He even got Servilia to sing a few extra lines because she’d been dragged off stage before the aria finished. She was played by the enchanting Silvia Moi by the way, very likely to steal the heart of any emperor.. but I digress.
Titus can’t believe his young, male friend Sextus wanted to kill him. And as Mozart writes, he’d rather change his heart than letting Rome come between him and his friend (this is after a long discussion with a bust of himself with glowing eyes). So with a little help of Konwitschny, he literally takes a knife and cuts his heart out! And a lady with a flash light runs in on the stage asking whether there’s a doctor in the audience. A guy runs up from two seats in front of me: "Yes!" He comes running up on stage, and a nurse with a bag comes in from behind the curtains. They only have a mechanical, silver heart though, so for the remainder of that scene he’s all robotica! But that’s after the doctor has adjusted Titus with a remote control, so that he sings in the correct language.
What a brilliant shocker!
And instead of letting Sextus perform his soul-twisted song of agony, dragged between love and loyalty (hey, this is opera!) on stage, the white curtain went down and he sat down at a table with a set of cardboard boxes in front of him. In each one there was one way to kill himself, but fate wanted something else; 1) a rope – the roof on stage was naturally too high up, 2) a box of pills – they tasted too bad, 3) a gun – no bullets and 4) a razor knife – but it was too dull to slash his wrists.
You just couldn’t stop laughing.
Another "surreal" element was Death, played by one in the orchestra who played the clarinet. This gave a physical impression of Vitellia’s "flirting with death", and it’s apparently a mark of Konwitschny. I’ve heard he often lets musicians play minor parts on stage. He also demands more acting from the singers, which can only be a plus. In the hands of this German director an otherwise mediocre opera was turned upside down and re-vived in new body and colour. Living up to the header of this production: Zustände wie im alten Rom. You won my applause! Excellent! Bravo!