Political theater in Aspen Opera Center’s ‘La clemenza’ | AspenTimes.com

Political theater in Aspen Opera Center’s ‘La clemenza’

With palace intrigue, infighting in the halls of power, corruption and a treasonous plot carried out in the name of political advancement, Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” is a tale as old as politics. But the Aspen Opera Center’s production takes on some additional resonance in the Trump era.

The echoes are clear in this tale of reckless ambition, manipulation and treachery in the Roman Empire — written in 1791, set in 79 A.D. — and occasional bits of its arias and recitative could be mistaken for Trump tweets: “Trust me blindly and you’ll keep faith,” for instance.

The Aspen production isn’t playing up the contemporary connections or making overt connections to President Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or other figures it might from the world stage.

“There won’t be any specific references to Trump,” director Ed Berkeley said early this summer. “We aren’t dressing Tito as him or anything like that. The thing is that the politics of the opera really speak to our contemporary condition.”

The opera’s relevance doesn’t need to be hammered into its audience.

“It’s also that the world, in this moment, is so volatile that everything takes on this extra political charge,” Berkeley added.

The production, running through Saturday at the Wheeler, opts for period-appropriate costuming of togas and tunics. The action plays out on a stately set of marble floors and stone walls, benches and pots of ferns. A group of mysterious, silent figures — hooded and clad, ninja-like, in all-black body suits — stalk the stage silently throughout, eavesdropping and heightening the atmosphere of conspiracy.

With all its resonance with the dark operatic drama of the 2016 election and early Trump era, “La clemenza” strikes a hopeful note in the end: Its emperor learns compassion, chooses peace and forgives his political enemies. In this instance, audiences may wish for life to imitate art.

David Stillman Meyer contributed to this report. atravers@aspentimes.com

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