la clemenza di tito

Opera in the Heights Wins with the Rare LA CLEMENZA DI TITO

By Nyderah Williams
February 8, 2015

Justin Hopkins is excellent as Publio. His presentation is very much the unfaltering, righteous Roman and he sings most attractively with his dark baritone voice.

Great performances aren’t just limited to the named characters. The chorus is also a delight. Nicely balanced with good blend and easy amplitude, they help create an intense and striking atmosphere. In addition, Dr. Eiki Isomura conducts with finesse and the orchestra radiantly delivers sound of the highest quality.

The staging and set of LA CLEMENZA all blends together with simplicity and intrigue. The set, comprised of a few very versatile box set pieces, is entirely covered in a decoupage of newspapers articles. The effect is a welcome one and goes well with the modern costumes of the cast. Keturah Stickann and Jeremiah Minh Grünblatt respectively, as stage director and production designer, have succeeded in showing how themes of this piece traverse into modern times.

Mozart’s infrequently performed LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is well-done by Opera in the Heights. From start to finish, their LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is a marvelous work, filled with beautiful, emotive singing, accompanied by an orchestral performance that is sumptuous and dynamic, all working together to bring forth every possible nuance in Mozart’s music. The entire performance including intermission is 2 hours and 35 minutes long. It is well-worth every second of it.

L-R: Vera Savage (Sesto) and Jennifer Crippen (Annio)

To view the article in its original form, please visit the Broadway World page, HERE

Opera In The Heights Presents Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito

First production for new interim conductor of the small opera company.

By: St.John Flynn

February 6, 2015

(L-R) Mezzo soprano Deborah Domanski, tenor Eric Barry and conductor Eiki Isomura. Photo by St.John Flynn.

Mozart wrote La Clemenza di Tito in 1791, the year he died. This was the year that also saw the creation ofThe Magic Flute and the unfinished Requiem.

Based on the life of the Roman emperor Titus, the opera is seen by many as harkening back to the style of earlier opera seria (serious rather than comic works) which Mozart had transcended.

Opera in the Heights’ new interim conductor Eiki Isomura, tenor Eric Barry (Tito) and mezzo sopranoDeborah Domanski (Sesto) talk with Houston Public Media’s St.John Flynn about La Clemenza di Tito which has its final performances this weekend.

Listen to the full interview HERE

OITH Does Well by Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito

By D.L. Groover

February 3, 2015

Emerald Cast: Vitellia and Servilia

The set-up:
Mozart’s penultimate opera, La Clemenza di Tito, is music fit for a king, which is certainly appropriate since it was commissioned to celebrate the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II’s coronation as King of Bohemia in September, 1791. The celebrations were hastily planned, leaving only about two months to ready Prague for the royal treatment.

An opera seria was required, but when approached to compose it on such short notice, imperial kapellmeisterSalieri turned down the offer. The producer of the festivities then turned to the only composer in Vienna who could do justice to such a project, W.A. Mozart.

Offered double the salary he could command in the capital, the young composer eagerly accepted the assignment. Working from an already written libretto by the grand master of opera seria, Pietro Metastasio, Mozart and his adapter Mazzola quickly churned out an opera worthy to honor the “enlightened emperor.”

Mozart couldn’t have been more pleased when he got to Prague. His music was played everywhere, a veritable Mozart festival. The Czech capital always loved him more than his adopted Vienna. The new opera, though, didn’t quite inflame the stuffy aristocrats, who found this melodic paean to an ancient Caesar a trifle boring. Those who knew their music and could hear what Mozart accomplished in this stylish work raved about the piece, but it was too little too late. One perceptive Czech did comment that after hearing Tito, it should have been Mozart who got the crown, not Leopold.

The opera found early favor, but got swamped by his other masterworks that swept the international scene. Almost two centuries would pass before the intrinsic beauties of the score were fully appreciated.

The execution:
In Opera in the Heights’ first production without maestro Enrique Carreon-Robledo, who was unceremoniously booted by the board last December in what was hazily reported as a “change of direction,” interim music director Eiki Isomura led a thrilling performance of this Mozart rarity. The OH orchestra sounded splendid. Two and a half hours, which includes intermission, flew by as we were presented with a modern-dress rendition, plain, simple, elegant, of this old tale made totally fresh by Mozart’s evanescent imagination.

Emperor Tito (tenor Zach Avery) is the sweetest man in Rome, beloved and honored by his citizens for his truthfulness and unimpeachable sense of justice. But when he chooses a wife, he rebuffs his predecessor’s daughter, vain and ambitious Vitellia (soprano Celeste Fraser). Bad idea. She goes ballistic and wants blood – his. Seducing Tito’s best friend Sesto (mezzo Vera Savage), Vitellia convinces the hapless man to assassinate Tito.

There’s a subplot about adviser Annio (mezzo Jennifer Crippen) and his love Servilia (soprano Theadora Cottarel), a bump in the plot which inspires Mozart to pen some ravishing love duets and goodbye arias, but is basically filler. Publio (bass baritone Justin Hopkins), head of the Praetorian Guard, is there whenever someone needs to be arrested.

In the end, all is forgiven through the magnanimous clemency of Tito, a.k.a. Leopold. The people rejoice in a triumphal chorale. “May the gods strike me down if ever I cease working for the good of Rome,” Tito exclaims. Prophetic words, for Leopold would be dead six months after Tito’s premiere.

The emerald cast is one finely tuned ensemble. They mesh together, really listen to each other, and play off all the seria’s high drama and melodramatics. Each brought something special to the work. Tito’s a rather thankless role, too good to be true, but Act II has him questioning loyalty and tormented by betrayal in some of the most transparent continuo sections alternating with full orchestra. (Throughout, the harpsichord playing by Catherine Schaefer was always elegant.) Avery’s crisp tenor shone best when his character had something juicy to sing.

Vitellia is certainly akin to Magic Flute‘s Queen of the Night, just not as floridly virtuosic. But she’s someone new to opera, a force to be reckoned with: elemental, powerful, dangerous. Her successors will become Verdi mezzos and Wagner villains: Azucena, Amneris, Ortrud. Vitellia breathes fire into the opera. Her “Non piu di fiori” (“No more wedding wreaths for me”) augmented by sweet clarinet (thanks to Maiko Sasaki) stands alone as a concert aria, as this wicked woman debates her fate, almost going mad with indecision. Should she confess and end her happiness, or let Sesto be killed for her sin? Frasar commands a large voice which rides over the orchestra during her fiery outbursts, and she made a perfect vamp, teasing poor Sesto in lacy black lingerie. Crippen and Cottarel were lovingly matched in ardor and warmth, and Hopkins’s Publio held our attention with impeccable phrasing and honeyed tone.

But this was Savage’s show. What a subtle powerhouse she is. As misguided Sesto, a pant’s role originally sung by castrato, she’s tall and blond and makes a very handsome man in black suit and tie. When director Keturah Stickman has her strip to her BVDs to keep Vitellia satisfied, the startling effect, somewhat ill-conceived, still manages to make dramatic sense since Savage plays it so well and looks the part. And her singing is a dream: supple and powerful, with a deep velvet shimmer. Whatever she sings, we believe.

Designed by Jeremiah Minh Grünblatt, the entire set is plastered with newspaper pages, like decoupage gone wild. The look’s supposed to suggest political relevancy, I guess. It just looks like newspaper glued all over the set. But the updating, using Secret Service men and a chorus in black suits, works a lot better at getting this idea across. If nothing else, the contempo references don’t trip up Mozart.

The verdict
Although I miss maestro Carreon-Robledo’s fire and passion in the pit and wish he were still leading OH, I will show clemency. Thank Mozart and some really fine interpreters for this stay of judgment.

To view the article in its original form, please visit the Houston Press page, HERE


By Sydney Boyd

Celeste Fraser as Vitelia and Zach Averyt as Tito. Deji Osinulu Photography

“I must win the loyalty of my people through love,” sings the beneficent Tito in Act Two of Mozart’s rarely performed opera La Clemenza di Tito. Opera in the Heights bravely took on this neglected late opera and performed it with heart, reminding me that it had been one of Mozart’s most popular operas until about 1830, and perhaps it should be again.

It is another rarity when a sovereign rewards honesty with amnesty, even when a subject confesses to plotting his assassination. And as such, La Clemenza is a plot that relies on the ensemble numbers that are so celebrated in Mozart’s other operas. Watching the Emerald cast—a passionate collection of talented young singers—it was clear they had taken great care of the trios, the quartets, and the chorus numbers.

The early chorus march “Serbate, o dei custodi” led by tenor Zach Averyt in the role of Tito, was full and lively. The fiery trio “Vengo! Aspettate!” between Justin Hopkins, Jennifer Crippen, and Celeste Fraser (which comes when Publio and Annio tell a shocked Vitellia that Tito wants her as a consort) rang together with attention to the harmonic subtleties while also communicating Vitellia’s veiled despair.

Hopkins, a bass-baritone whose full, light timbre as Leporello stole the show in OH’s production of Don Giovanni last season, was a stand out again. Making her OH debut as Sesto, mezzo soprano Vera Savage left an impression vocally and otherwise. The victim of Vittellia’s seduction, Sesto is a desperate man. Sure, we’ve seen trouser roles before—when a female singer dons the character of a man—but have we seen a woman in a trouser role slowly strip off her suit and tie in an act of frustrated passion to stand confidently in only underwear? Savage pulled it off with panache.

Stage director Keturah Stickann has done exceptional work with the Lambert Hall stage. The blocking was smart, never feeling overcrowded, and the window cut-out at center stage proved a visual treat. The stage, papered from floor to ceiling with newspapers and charcoal pitchforks, bespoke a timely present-day obsession with gossip and misconceptions. The costumes designed by Dena Scheh—sharp suits set against decadent gowns—were tasteful and divinely popped against the newspaper background.

The orchestra, under the new direction of interim conductor Eiki Isomura, was reliably solid. Even so, there were a handful of unfortunate moments when the singers lagged behind the orchestra. Isomura notes in the program that initially he felt intimidated byLa Clemenza. While he seems in many ways to have conquered this (a triumphant downbeat to the overture surely testified as such), overall he directed with a slight awkwardness, as though he were still getting to know the score and his musicians.

It’s not often that opera celebrates the deep virtues of forgiveness, generosity, and love, where the opera ends with a chorus of loyal subjects asking the gods to grant their sovereign a long life. More regularly, audiences are confronted with prolonged death, lingering deceptions, and questionable moral codes that no doubt delight us (Don Giovanni, for example), but are nevertheless commonplace in the genre. Here, we are left with a uniquely comforitng blanket absolution thanks to the zeal of OH’s cast and the warm familiarity of Lambert Hall.

See full review HERE

Art Valet: La clemenza di Tito

By Mitch Cohen

January 29, 2015 

Opera. Sit back down and read, I know most people are a yes or no with opera, and probably aren’t sure why if they’re a no. Me, I’ve been a maybe. However, if you hadn’t noticed by now, I love everything about the Heights, and the Heights just happens to have, a small, very famous opera house, and that got my attention.

Opera in the Heights (OH) is the name, and they also want to pay for half your ticket if you’ve never been to an opera before. How cool is that?

My very talented friend Mariam Khalili has just been promoted to Executive Director of OH, and she invited me to the dress rehearsal for Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito this past Monday evening. My reaction? Awesome! Mariam straightened me out on opera and in particular, what OH is all about.

“Opera in the Heights lives and breathes inside tiny Lambert Hall, a beautiful old church building that sits on Heights Boulevard,” Khalili said. “I would say that 9 out of 10 Heights Boulevard joggers, dog walkers, and bicyclists, have no idea what treasures are produced inside this building they move past daily. OH is one of the best kept secrets around; a secret that should be shared. On the other side of the coin, Opera in the Heights is known nationally and even internationally in the opera world thanks to two different Maestros who gave their artistic gifts to grow the organization over the years, as well as hundreds of artists, staff, and volunteers.”

An internationally recognized organization goes unnoticed in its own backyard? I continued asking questions:

“OH is a non-profit organization that was founded with the idea that Opera should be shared with everyone,” Khalili said. “Imagine delighted children experiencing a live, fully staged opera complete with an orchestra for the very first time. OH provides this experience and so much more for our blossoming Heights community. Over the years Opera in the Heights created a second name for itself by declaring the desire to promote emerging artists and giving them a place to not only build a resume, but to SHINE. OH now serves two major purposes: Making opera accessible and supporting and nurturing emerging artists.”

Watching the performance in the 300 seat theater, is an experience like nothing else. Opera is very emotional and dramatic, so being able to see the singer’s expressions and body language is a major bonus here. Halfway through the performance, and I’m hooked. I ask Mariam if she gets to interact with these amazing singers and musicians.

“I love engaging with our singers and musicians,” Khalili said. “They are all so gifted and such a pleasure to be around! It is always so interesting to me to see their alter egos on stage. I have been completely blown away by their ability to transform into the person that their character embodies.” Khalili continues about the orchestra too, “I have to say that OH is incredibly lucky to have the orchestra we have. These guys and gals don’t get but a few rehearsals in as a group, with the conductor and the singers, and they produce a phenomenal show.”

“Once you fall in love with opera, it is hard to get away from it, and once you experience it in our very intimate theater, you really can’t get it out of your system.” Khalili said of her experience with opera. I have to agree, I’m falling hard for it now.

La clemenza di Tito is one of Mozart’s rarest operas, written during the final year of his life in 1791. I am told that it is also one of the most difficult to perform both for the orchestra and to sing. This was not lost on my inexperience as an opera goer either. An amazing performance by all.

Presuming that you are newbie to opera like me, I left out the details that would have opera fans oohing and aahing. As Khalili pointed out, OH is known nationally and internationally.

La clemenza di Tito runs for two weekends (and a Thursday show) with performance dates of Jan. 30 and 31 and Feb. 5, 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. and matinees on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 at 2 p.m., all at historic Lambert Hall in the Houston Heights.

For new initiates requesting half-price tickets, please call the OH box office at 713-861-5303 or go online at to order, using the code OPERANEWBIE. Regular single ticket prices for the production run from $35-$67, senior tickets are $32-$58, and student tickets are $15-$17 in designated areas.

All operas are fully staged with orchestra and presented in the original language with English surtitles projected above the stage.

Opera in the Heights is located at 1703 Heights Boulevard, Houston, TX 77008. Be sure to visit the website

See the Original Story HERE