There were so many beautiful moments in The Metropolitan Opera's production of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," (broadcast live from the Met at the Digiplex Cinema Center, 300 W. Fourth St.) that it was hard to keep a tally.
What began seemingly as a quaint period piece gradually became a fascinating melodrama, which, despite being more than 200 years old, didn't fail to surprise with it's anti-Shakespearian conclusion that favored mercy over bloodshed.
The story takes place in Rome, 79 A.D., and follows Vitellia, the daughter of the former Emperor, Vitellio, who wants to have the current emperor, Tito, killed because he does not love her.
Frustrated by being rejected, Vitellia turns Tito's loyal friend Sesto against him. Sesto, a normally upstanding man, is blinded by his love for Vitellia, and is ready to do as she says, even if it means killing his dear comrade.
Throughout the narrative, there are about as many changes of heart as there are scenes in the production, but this just adds to the depth of the opera and keeps the characters from being one-note and predictable. And whenever a scene's drama begins to drag, the music is reliably brilliant and always easy to get lost in.
The two best performances come from female singers who play men, Elina Garanca as Sesto and Kate Lindsey as Annio. Garanca, a little stiff and hard to believe at first, transforms into something to behold as Sesto unravels with guilt and falls into despair over betraying his emperor.
One can't help but notice that the show gains something when Sesto supplants Vitellia, played by Barbara Frittoli, as the central figure.
While Frittoli is an amazing singer, her stage presence is a little lacking and she doesn't revel in the evilness of her character enough.
Lindsey, in a secondary role that easily could've gotten lost in the shuffle, becomes a scene-stealer with a glare that could cut any man down and a voice that commands attention. It doesn't hurt that's she's stunningly gorgeous as well.
One can't critique the opera without mentioning Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito, the show's title character. Filianoti, like so many other parts of this production, gets better as the story unfolds.
At first, he seemed cold and distant and I found myself wishing for a performer with more personality - like Rene Pape, who was so charismatic as the devil in last year's "Faust."
But when Filianoti is alone with Garanca, in the best scene in the opera, in which Tito is trying to figure out how his most loyal friend could be a traitor and Sesto wants to die because of guilt, what happens between the two actors is simply magic.
We desperately want Tito to forgive Sesto because of their obvious bond (which has a not-so-subtle homoerotic vibe) even though he had just tried to kill Tito by torching the palace.
The whole opera, which was reportedly composed by Mozart in 18 days in 1791, is charged by the ingenious libretto, which was written by Caterino Mazzola (after Metastasio) and features poetic lines like, "If ever you feel a light breeze/ playing on your face/ that breath will be/ my dying sighs," said by Sesto to Tito as he's pleading for mercy.
Mercy, refreshingly, ends up being the theme of the day. It was very satisfying to have a drama about a king end without beheadings or a pile of bodies, but rather with a celebratory song about forgiveness. I think many contemporary writers could learn a thing or two from this late and often-second-guessed opera by Mozart.
NEXT OPERA: Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" will be broadcast live from the Met at 12:55 p.m. Saturday at the Digiplex Cinema Center and Great Escape Theater, 965 Lycoming Mall Circle, Muncy.