Besides the production of La Clemenza di Tito still in repertory at the Met, Jean-Pierre Ponelle also made a film of the piece. It was shot among the ruins of ancient Rome in 1980 and is one of those lip synched opera films popular in that era. The forces involved are eclectic. James Levine conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor with mainly American soloists.
It’s a bit like the Met production in that we have a sort of fantasy 18th century meets a fantasy Ancient Rome but in detail it’s not at all the same. Partly this is the characterisation. Most of it is rather overdone. Eric Tappy’s Tito is practically foaming at the mouth, a lot of recitative is snarled rather than sung and Carol Neblett’s Vitellia can’t make up her mind whether she’s the Queen of the Night or a Disney princess. A lot of the details are a bit campy too. Sesto’s cell in Act 2 has chains he(she) could crawl through they are so large. There are extreme wigs.
That said, some of the music making is rather good. Tatiana Troyanos sings Sesto very well though I find her acting mannered and she’s too old for the part. Kurt Rydl is a solid Publio and a very young Catherine Malfitano makes an appealing Servilia. I’m less convinced about Anne Howell’s rather squeaky Annio. Levine is generally quite fast but he’s precise and dramatic. I liked it more than some other Levine Mozart efforts. There are also some arresting visual images with Ponelle using his trademark strong verticals and not afraid to offer broad vistas either.
Technical quality is OK. The picture is 4:3 and 1980s TV quality. Both LPCM stereo and (reprocessed) DTS surround sound are quite good. Documentation is standard and there are English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese subtitles.
In the last analysis I really can’t get too enthused about this. I’d say anyone interested in the Ponelle aesthetic or a traditional Clemenza would be well advised to wait for the DVD of the recent HD broadcast from the Met which was very good indeed. If you are interested in versions that explore the work more deeply both the Paris and Salzburg productions can be recommended.