This is a beautiful opera, one that lovely melodies and a concise story line make easy to appreciate. To be fair, there are signs that Mozart was rushed. Some of the secondary arias are shorter than what's found in the great comedies. Many numbers lack the musical variety found in even lesser pieces from Figaro, Don Giovanni and such. This isn't to say those works are without baggage-they aren't. Masetto's aria (for instance) is a second rate song at best. Mostly though, more attention seems to have given to the supporting roles in the larger works. The original secco recitatives for this opera are a sore point as well. Mozart assigned the work to a pupil, probably Franz Anton Süssmayr. They're a string of duds, and that's being nice. John Eliot Gardiner recorded Tito around the same time this production was filmed and trimmed most of them. The people in charge here found somebody who cared about what he was doing and paid to have a new set written.
The result was well worth the effort. Stephen Oliver's recitatives provide this opera with something that compliments it and carries the action well. Having something like this done was long overdue. Tito contains some of the most beautiful music Mozart wrote. Yes, many numbers are shorter than usual. That's fine as they fill the psychological needs of their characters while also preventing their musical phrases from being overplayed. There isn't a weak link in the cast. Yes, Titus is a one dimensional paragon of goodness. Yet, when you watch Philip Langridge perform "his music" it's easy to believe a man can be like that. Diana Montague and Martine Mahé are superb as Sextus and Annio. There's one complaint and it's a minor one. These ladies look too feminine to forget that they're a pair of (very) attractive women. Peter Rose does well in the role of Publius. Elzbieta Szymytka is ravishing as Servilla. Her voice has that lovely crystalline quality so well suited to Mozart's work. Ashley Putnam is great! The role of Vitellia contains an emotional kaleidoscope and she delivers one. She is jealous and passionate, loving and ruthless, proud and then humbled all at once. Her music, particularly "Non Piu di Fiori, is fiendishly difficult. Some passages almost call for a soprano with mezzo-soprano's lower range. There are two instances where the music finds her limit but in both instances she recovers quickly. The sets are odd as are some of the camera angles. They suit the action though, and better yet, don't interfere with it. The subtitles are clear (though sometimes off centre) and contain a few typos ("epress"?) but give far more detail than what's found in most productions. New viewers will appreciate that.
This is an excellent production, one that's great for lovers of opera and for those new to opera.
Ah, Perdona Al Primo Affetto
This duet deserves mention on its own merits. It is one of the most perfect and beautiful gems imaginable. The first recording I heard was sung by Frederica von Stade and Lucia Popp under the baton of Sir Colin Davis. The emotional reaction it set off then was uncontrollable. To this day it usually has that effect. This is one of those pieces where beauty doesn't fade or wither with familiarity. Each time you listen there's a new detail to appreciate. The vocal lines are sublimely gentle, each note a caressing touch. The scoring is a miracle of transparent clarity. When performed as it is here, this is a model for what music can be. It touches the heart, caresses the emotions and makes you think about the beauty man can aspire to. To have it performed the way Martine Mahé (Annio), Elzbieta Szymytka and Andrew Davis have done it is worth the price of the entire disc.