Political pawns

Mozart’s opera ‘La Clemenza di Tito’ is transposed from ancient Rome to modern-day Washington, D.C.

Opera 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Opera 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It all started from an e-mail,” recalls young Israeli Opera director Niv Hoffman as he speaks of the new production of the rarely performed (at least in Israel) of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, which will be performed throughout the country between October 16 – 30. “I suggested to the Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra’s artistic director Yaron Gottfried to stage it, and he immediately agreed.”
La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) was composed by Mozart not long before he died. By then, he had already composed his best known pieces, such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte. The opera tells the story of Roman emperor Titus, who miraculously escapes assassination and then pardons the conspirators, his best friend among them. This made him look like a wise and merciful ruler.
“The genre of opera seria, in which La Clemenza is written, became outdated already in Mozart’s days. But since it was commissioned for the coronation ceremony of Leopold II as King of Bohemia, the composer did not have much choice – the event suggested the style,” explains Hoffman, adding, that Mozart, instead of writing a series of arias connected with recitatives, composed “wonderful duets, trios and other ensembles, as well as beautiful choir fragments.”
The original libretto, written by Metastasio and used by other composers several times before Mozart, did not look really convincing to Hoffman: “Nowadays, I find it difficult to take seriously the leader’s endless speeches of how hard it is for him to rule the empire alone and how much he cares about his subjects. Instead, I turned him into a sort of puppet politician who reads out the speeches written for him by other people. Yet he undergoes a process of becoming an independent human being with opinions of his own and, at the end, goes against public opinion, which demands the blood of the conspirators.
For this he has to pay a price – and this is my own invention; you cannot find it in the original opera.”
This is not a historical production – far from it.
“A talented designer, Naor Tzabar, created the very modern-looking costumes.The opera takes place on Capitol Hill in Rome, but all the sets of the production are reminiscent of Capitol Hill in Washington. Elegant men and strong women, advisers, lobbyists are all carrying briefcases and mobile phones. The stage designer, Niv Manor, created a very neat stage, which looks both like a black-andwhite film and a concrete bunker – the president’s desk.”
Hoffman has nothing but praise for his young cast of singers Ayala Zimbler, Yair Goren, Shira Raz, Efrat Elazar, Alla Vasilevitsky and Nimrod Grinboim – all members of the Israeli Opera Studio – and for the young dancers from the Tel Aviv Dance Ensemble and its choreographers Goldenberg and Ya’ara Dolev. “The young singers’ devotion is amazing. As for the choreographers, we simply worked together, trying to turn the dance fragments into an inseparable element of the opera. I only hope that we will be able to extricate this marvelous opera from its totally undeserved oblivion.”
The Netanya – Kibbutz Orchestra, conducted by Yaron Gottfried, will perform La Clemenza di Tito throughout the country between October 16 – 30. . For more details, visit www.kibbutz-orchestra.co.il. For reservations, call (09) 960-4757.