La Clemenza di Tito in Osnabrück

On the surface, Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito is about the values associated with governance and the exercise of power. The emperor Tito is at the centre of political intrigue, not least to determine who shall be his wife and thus acquire power. A conspiracy fermented by Vitellia through Sesto nearly kills the emperor and sets fire to half of Rome. Should the conspirators be punished or pardoned? As the title reveals, Tito opts for clemency. For Mozart, this is a virtue, as also for Roman tradition, as represented by the statue of an emperor on stage throughout.

The work is usually played straight, with the characters behaving according to what they articulate. But, as the performance in Osnabrück demonstrates, it can also be given a satirical edge, most notably with reference to Vitellia, a woman crazy to acquire power whether it be acquired by seducing Tito or else by murdering him. As played by Marysol Schalit, the characterisation strays into ridicule, flouncing around the stage with an excess of comic gestures.

The suspicion that director Hendrik Müller had something else up his sleeve proved to be well founded. At the risk of being a spoiler (but who amongst you are likely to see this show in Osnabrück?), I will reveal that, at the climax of the drama, as the citizens are praising Tito for his clemency, they turn on, and assassinate, him. A cynical interpretation, indeed, and one that is not worked through with any consistency in the performance as a whole. Nor, in the musical dimension. The conductor Andreas Hotz led a supple, rather than edgy, reading of the score, allowing Mozart’s ideas to prevail. No one among the singers was less than competent, but equally no one stood out for vocal excellence.