St John’s, Waterloo
Vitellia – Nicola Ihnatowicz
Sesto – Norma Ritchie
Annio – Lucy Goddard
Publio – Andy Armistead
Tito – John Upperton
Servilia – Emma Dogliani
Chorus of Midsummer Opera (chorus master and stage director: John Upperton)
Symphony Orchestra of Midsummer Opera
David Roblou (conductor)
This was my first visit to a Midsummer Opera performance; on the basis of this performance, I doubt that it will be the last. Mozart, and what we might consider the neo-Classical Mozart of La clemenza di Tito at that, is the sternest, most unsparing of musical taskmasters, and the company acquitted itself with honour.
I suspect ‘concert staging’ might be the closest description for what we saw. It certainly was not a concert performance, since performers came on and off, costumed in non-specific modern dress, and interacted with each other as they would on stage – albeit, in this case, largely behind the orchestra. As John Upperton, stage director and chorus master as well as Tito, put it in his note, ‘we just “hint” at the characterisation through simple, non-concert wear.’ There were almost no props, save for Tito’s throne in front of the altar. The idea, according to Upperton, was to have ‘the music … speak for itself … any production ideas should clarify and not confuse, so our productions are aimed solely at enhancing the overall musical experience of our audiences.’ Assisted by Lynne McAdam, Upperton succeeded admirably in that respect.
That, of course, threw the musical performances into still greater relief. Save for a disappointing Sesto, the cast largely impressed. Upperton’s communication of the text was perhaps the clearest of all, though Lucy Goddard as Annio came close. Both carried well over the orchestra too, as did Nicola Ihnatowicz’s Vitellia, for me perhaps the star of the show. Ihnatowicz showed great dramatic presence, both visually and vocally, in what is by any standards a demanding role, not just technically but emotionally too. Andy Armistead made for an impressively deep-toned Publio, with Emma Dogliani shining as Servilia when the role permitted her to do so. Choral singing was impressively full-bodied throughout, an undoubted beneficiary of the St John’s, Waterloo acoustic. Perhaps that militated against orchestral clarity, and in any case there were passages when David Roblou (who also played the harpsichord continuo) might have imparted more tension and crispness to orchestral proceedings. Balanced against that, there was some fine playing to be heard, and any shortcomings were far from grievous. Richard Stockall's basset clarinet playing deserves especial mention. The orchestra propelled the drama as it should and again sounded properly full-bodied when called for. This was, then, as Upperton hoped, ‘something more than just a concert’.