Claus Guth’s Glyndebourne debut production saw three cast changes in the weeks leading up to the first night, with the title role of the Roman Emperor Tito, together with those of his friend yet simultaneously would-be assassin Sesto and the latter’s loyal friend Annio all eventually taken by artists other than those whose names appear in the festival programme.
Yet none of these unscheduled alterations seems to have damaged the overall result, which offers a searching exploration of a work dating from Mozart’s final year which used to be considered an artistic failure.
It was written at a crucial moment in European history. The Bastille had been stormed two years earlier, while Marie-Antoinette – sister of the new Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, for whose coronation as King of Bohemia it was commissioned – was deposed as Queen of France just two days before the work’s Prague premiere. Mozart’s task was to provide an endorsement of enlightened monarchism when it seemed to be on the slide, his opera’s hero an ideal ruler, repeatedly forgiving those closest to him when they attempt to overthrow him.
And indeed it is a measure both of the strength of the piece and of the deep insights of Guth’s production — which uses videos to present Tito and Sesto’s close relationship as children — that one firmly believes in the Emperor’s dilemma.
This is also an evening of magnificently dramatic singing from Alice Coote’s twice-rejected Vitellia, Anna Stephany’s conflicted Sesto, Richard Croft’s tortured Tito, Clive Bayley’s civil-servant-like Publio, Michele Losier’s unquestioning Annio and Joelle Harvey’s honest Servilia.
Strength and skill, too, from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as they demonstrate the opera’s musical greatness under the vital baton of Robin Ticciati – a welcome returnee to the Glyndebourne pit following his indisposition last season.