Outstanding voices, great singing, and superb orchestral accompaniment made Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, a memorable evening. The production was under the musical direction of guest conductor Steven White, artistic director of Opera Roanoke and a frequent guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. Fletcher Opera Institute managing director Steven LaCosse, responsible for the staging of the opera, managed to enliven the somewhat static scenes through facial animation and judicious placement of the characters on the stage.

Soprano Virginia Sheffield sang the role of Vitellia, the only villainous character in this story of jealousy, betrayal, and forgiveness. Her voice is beautifully pure. with a clear, crystalline quality. She was especially expressive in her second act aria of contrition, “Non più fi fiori” (No More Flowers), with its outstanding clarinet obbligato (one of two in Clemenza), here played by Ramiro Soto, who was rewarded with an on-stage bow at the end of the opera.

The title role of Tito (Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, Roman Emperor for a very few years during the first century A.D.) was sung by the blond tenor Logan Webber, whose rich voice and rapid vibrato made his role as the “emperor who forgives” quite likeable. His last act aria (“Se all’impero Dei”) was a brilliant coloratura work for tenor!

In modern times is unusual to find a countertenor of the power and vocal richness of Mason Taylor. Singing the part of Sesto, friend of Tito and suitor of Vitellia, his voice soared with strength and accuracy. In duets with Vitellia, he was the perfect match in volume, intensity, and even vibrato, although toward the end of the evening he began to show signs of fatigue.

His best friend (other than the emperor he betrays) is Annio, a “pants role” sung by mezzo-soprano Brennan Martinez with power, authority, and a most intriguing color to her wide-ranging voice. Annio’s lover, Servilia, the sister of Sesto, was sung by soprano Margaret Ann Zentner with nimble verve and charm.

Baritone André Peele was excellent as Publio, commander of the Praetorian guards, a role he shares in alternate performances with Lawrence Hall. And the chorus of citizens, senators, and guards was superb – evenly balanced, clear, and with excellent diction.

I was not particularly enchanted with the Roman columns (more like girders topped with Ionic capitals), although their self-propelling capability called the Roomba to mind! The costumes were extravagant but classy. And the now-common practice of translating the Italian text into English and projecting it on a screen above the stage (super-titles) was much appreciated!

This year has been one of many “lasts,” including Verdi’s last opera (Falstaff), Puccini’s last completed operas (Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi), and now, the last opera Mozart was to begin (although he completed it before Zauberflöte), La clemenza di Tito. As Charles Rosen writes in his epic The Classical Period, “Tito has all the finish of Mozart’s finest works – Mozart’s music is never less than beautiful – but it is difficult to convey how unmemorable it is.” However, the impressive voices of this production will stay in my memory for a long time! an

The opera repeats on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 9, and Tuesday evening, Feb. 11. See the sidebar for details.