Owen McCausland shines in the title role of La Clemenza di Tito

Seasonal flu prevented Michael Schade from performing the title role on February 9, 2013. The opportunity  presented itself  for a young tenor Owen McCausland. Hopefully for Mr. McCausland this will turn out to be one of those career milestones after which everything changes because we the audience had a chance to see that he is a tenor to keep an eye on. At the incredible age of 22 he assumes the role of a Roman emperor with a maturity, confidence and conviction extraordinary for a singer at such an early stage in his career and at that age. A native of Saint John, New Brunswick he emerges as a talented young singer, a multiple year winner of the New Brunswick Competitive Festival of Music. We will see him again this spring in Salome. He appeared in the previous season in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, understudied a role of Spalanzani in the Tales of Hoffman, and just this season in a small role of a young sailor this month in Tristan and Isolde. In 2011 he was one of the winners of the COC Ensemble Studio competition.

Owen McCausland (front) as Tito and Neil Craighead as Publio in the La clemenza di Tito, 2013.  Photo: Michael Cooper

Owen McCausland (front) as Tito and Neil Craighead as Publio in the La clemenza di Tito, 2013. Photo: Michael Cooper

The authorities I usually research on the subject of opera more or less agree that La Clemenza di Tito is not an opera even its author would be particularly proud of. Mozart wrote it in less than three weeks for the money he desperately needed. It was written for the coronation of Leopold II, King of Bavaria. Mozart wrote it at the time when he was busy writing the Magic Flute, recycling a libretto which was used before by many lesser known composers. The plot is improbable. At a time when for lot  minor transgressions people were thrown into cages with  lions, it seems a little dubious that for  plotting the assassination of a Roman emperor, the conspirators would be forgiven and get away with it with only  a few mildly resentful “tsk tsks” from the emperor.  Yet, this is exactly what happens. It is a digestible piece of a little over two hours with plenty of roles for female voices, including two “trouser roles”, some beautiful duets and orchestration bearing a distinct Mozart flavour.  It is also a nice little opera that fills the season’s repertoire and gives the young singers an opportunity to break their stage fright and gain some valuable confidence-building  experience, or as is the case of Owen McCausland a chance to rise and shine. This is exactly how it appears this season at the Canadian Opera Company.

This production of the Chicago Opera Theater, directed by Christopher Alden, uses a simple set that remains unchanged throughout, resembling the Capitol of any capital that has it, including  joggers, lobbyists, warts and all. Many humorous details are sprinkled through acting and stage movements that give a touch of lightness to this dramatic plot with a happy ending.

In “trouser roles” there were Isabel Leonard, a young American soprano as Sesto, and Wallis Giunta as Annio. Robert Gleadow in the role of Publio, and Mirelle Asselin as Servilia were other COC Ensemble studio members who took part in this opera with praiseworthy performance. It was the commendable team work of young singers and the 28-year-old conductor, Daniel Cohen, a protégé of Daniel Barenboim.

Worth mentioning are the lighting designer Gary Marder and set designer Andrew Cavanagh Holland, whose delicate attention and attunement contributed to the overall success that staging of this piece permits.

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One Response to “Owen McCausland shines in the title role of La Clemenza di Tito”

  1. operaramblings Says:

    I think critical opinion of Clemenza has been changing over the last ten to twenty years. Few people today would dismiss it as hack work and some would rate it as one of Mozart’s highest achievements. I think I’m close to that position. Certainly “Ah perdona” is one of the loveliest duets in all of opera. It’s a shame that the old perception persists with the general public. I’m sure that’s why this production is selling poorly.

    I’m happy, but not surprised that Owen did so well. He was excellent at the Ensemble Studio performance last week. I wouldn’t wish ill health on anyone but it would be great to see Ambur get a chance to do Vitellia with the main cast. She was amazing in the ES performance. Even better than she was as Adele in Fledermaus.

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