Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Special to TorSun
06 FEB 2013
R: 2.5/5

Pictured: Keri Alkema, Isabel Leonard

TORONTO - In today’s world, the quality of mercy may not be strained, but the quality of clemency has gone to hell in a handbasket. That would be “clemency” as in LA CLEMENZA DI TITO, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that, while not considered one of his best, still demonstrates his enduring genius as a composer.

Happily, the power of that music remains undiminished in a new production of LA CLEMENZA unveiled by the Canadian Opera Company on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre Sunday. In fact, in the end, it is his music, served up with superb artistry by the COC Orchestra under Daniel Cohen, backing a hugely talented cast, that keeps this production afloat. And they do it despite what appears to be the best effort of director Christopher Alden and his design team to sink the whole production like a stone.

Alden, the controversial director behind divisive high-concept productions like The Flying Dutchman and Rigoletto, once again approaches his task with more alacrity than finesse, jettisoning such superfluities as plot and character development lest they interfere in any way with what he wants to show us. And apparently, what he wants us to see is a decadent empire in modern-day microcosm rather than the ancient Roman variety in which it is set, because clearly, without his help, we aren’t bright enough to find modern day resonances on our own.

And just to ensure that we don’t miss his point, he sets us down in what appears to be the staging area of a vast sporting complex, populated by a masked chorus drawn from the ranks of las madres de la Plaza de Mayo and ruled over by an Emperor Tito (tenor Michael Schade) in love with his pyjamas and his security blanket (actually, it might be a carpet), nursing a vision of himself as a man of mercy. He is so caught up in reinforcing that image, in fact, that he completely overlooks the fact that Vitellia (soprano Keri Alkema), the daughter of the man he deposed, is expecting him to save her from her natural calling as a table dancer by marrying her and making her empress. In revenge for Tito’s apparent oversight, she seduces Tito’s noble friend Sesto (soprano Isabel Leonard) into fomenting a rebellion to sweep the emperor from his throne. By the time Vitellia learns Tito has feelings matrimonial, it is too late to stop the unsuccessful coup-in-progress and Sesta is sentenced to die.

The cast is rounded out by soprano Wallis Giunta (doing a truly bad Michael Cera impersonation as Annio), bass Robert Gleadow (captain of the guard) and soprano Mireille Asselin (as Sesto’s sister Servilia) and it’s an impressive group, rich in vocal artistry and power. But sadly, once designers Andrew Cavanaugh Holland (sets), Terese Wadden (costumes) and Gary Marder (lighting) are done fleshing out Alden’s bizarre vision, only Leonard is left with even a shred of human dignity. But not even she gets any time off for good behaviour.

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