Manhattan School of Music (MSM) Opera Theater began its main-stage season, this month, with an account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera seria of power, love, loyalty, betrayal, and intrigue “La Clemenza di Tito” (1791) that was as crisp and compelling as one would want, as guided by conductor George Manahan and director Dona D. Vaughn. Mozart is good for young voices, many voice teachers say, and this exceptional endeavor by and large demonstrated that. There were four performances, beginning on December 8, and I heard the third, on the 10th.
“It’s all about Sesto”—a principal role, originally written for castrato—Vaughn said to me, and the brightest highlight of Act One was the suitably conflicted Sesto, Hongni Wu’s florid “Parto, parto,” which made for a fine fit for her sumptuous, flexible mezzo-soprano. She impressed as well in the turbulent recitativo accompagnato, shortly thereafter, and in the second act rondo, “Deh per questo istante solo.”
Manipulative foil to Wu’s Sesto was promising high soprano Abigail Shapiro as Vitellia. A quick, accurate high D, in the trio “Vengo … aspettate … Sesto!,” was hers to command. The frequent low-lying passages in her assignment would suggest, however, that this role will not figure prominently in Shapiro’s future repertory. In Act One, Vaughn had Sesto bring Vitellia a bouquet, which she abruptly flung aside, pointing, in a way, toward a theme of her later lament “Non più di fiori.”
Philippe L’Esperance, as the merciful Emperor Tito, disclosed a lyric tenor of grace and finesse in his first act arias, dramatic second act accompanied recitative, and aria replete with fioriture. Taking the travesti part of Annio—which not composed for castrato—mezzo-soprano Amy Yarham’s lyric instrument blended well with those of Wu and lyric soprano Hayan Kim, as Servilia, in their duets. Completing the cast was Michael Gracco, the polished baritone Publio. The Act One quintet-and-chorus finale, reacting to the burning of the Capitol and attempted assassination of Tito, was particularly striking. Classic sets and costumes were designed by Erhard Rom and Tracy Dorman respectively and lighting was by Tyler Micoleau.
MSM’s season will continue in spring 2017 with Leoš Janácek’s “Cunning Little Vixen,” from March 29 to April 1, and Johann Strauss’s “Der Zigeunerbaron” (The Gypsy Baron), from April 27 to 30. Visit www.msmnyc.edu
for further information.