It may be a whimsical (yet burning) question but think about it: trouser roles are supposed to be men. Would they shave their legs? I’m sure a dude like Orlando wouldn’t even think the razor was for something other than offing enemies. Tancredi wouldn’t either. Neither would Holofernes, unless he was convinced that would win Juditha’s heart (maybe that’s what Dalila should’ve done to Samson). Cherubino’s probably smooth as a baby’s arse and I don’t see Sesto as particularly hairy, though you never know, he’s Mediterranean… Annio might, he’s a bit dapper and strikes me as a budding control freak.
Anyway, a few of these were originated by men, so maybe the answer is a decided hell no. But what about a bona fide trouser role like Octavian? Especially since it’s the one most likely to show some leg, both because of Mariandel and because he first comes to our attention whilst in bed. He’s older than Cherubino so he might’ve sprouted some. I think he’d be proud of it. As would The Composer, since nobody’s taking him seriously.
… to the person who spent the last 5 or so days reading my blog🙂 I salute your love of Tito.
You probably know HBO is making – has made? or has the FF Jenkins film replaced that project? <-probably more MS’s ballpark, really – this film with Meryl Streep as Maria Callas. Footage of Callas doing the Julliard Masterclass that inspired the play is on zetube for your pleasure1 (annoyingly, the sound is way low and a bit warped on Callas’ side).
I personally am sick about the way MS seems to have cornered every mature woman role of late. Tyne Daly in the stage play seems as fine as anything to me, plus she doesn’t have MS’ annoying mannerisms and pinched face (hey, if this ever gets made she too might be fitted with a prosthetic nose!). I bet you she’s going to bring her magnifying glass and try and cross all Callas’ ts and dot all the is and make her funny. Callas had her sense of humour (it comes through in the interviews) but rather than Nathalie Dessay-funny she was humourous in the way the statue of a goddess (as opposed to a cherub) would be. She was, it’s true, very calcultated, which might be the attraction for MS, but way grander than MS can hope to reach. Who was it who said (Zeffirelli?) that he never believed Caballe’s Norma could kill her children but he was sure Callas’ could?
One more good quip about singing opera – perhaps my favourite ever2 – from JDD, the endless fountain of such:
I love it when an aria from my favourite piece is dissected in a masterclass. I love it even more when watching it crystalises something that had not been clear to me before. In this case we have a young man who launches into Tito’s big aria with Imperial aplomb. Promptly, JDD stops him and tells him to switch to Gounod. Haha! He’s so horrified: was I that bad? Bluntly put, yes. To save face, he admits he hadn’t sung Mozart before. Well, maybe begin with a less fiendish Mozart aria then? He could’ve tried Ah, se fosse... for a start. All Mozartean without being quite so mad.
But this post isn’t meant a bash young singer. By all means, I love it when singers of all levels pay attention to Tito arias. This post is about who Tito is and who he isn’t. The singer’s biggest fault is that this isn’t clear to him. To be fair, it’s not easy to find Tito.
Tito is an Emperor, yes, but not a Napoleon-type Emperor. So none of the Imperial (with capital I) authority here. As usual, the answer is in the libretto:
Se all’impero, amici Dei,
Necessario è un cor severo;
O togliete a me l’impero,
O a me date un altro cor.
The assassination attempt and the revelation of who was behind it has properly humbled him: my heart isn’t harsh. If that’s what’s needed [to rule] rather take the responsibility away from me or give me a different heart altogether. He’s a softie. And then the B part develops on this, shows us his true (soft) self.
This very masterclass exercise proves it’s worth thinking about the whole character arc even when studying just one aria. Tito has spent the entire opera trying to reach out to his less than Imperial friends and become a mortal. Se all’impero is the moment where he feels he has achieved this. After having been betrayed as deeply as possible he still – and (apparently) for real – finds it in his heart to practice what he has been preaching. He lets go of his knee-jerk reactions – remember, he does not have models of Enlightened Emperors to guide him; for the time Metastasio came up with the libretto this was still quite a modern approach – and reconnects with himself1. It’s admirable to have ideals but it’s actually very hard to live up to them. Also, heroism might look quite differently than one has imagined.
- I think this might be a good turning point for singers to give Tito some solidity after all the theoretical musing we’ve seen him indulge in before. ↩
After a couple of years of relative absence, Tito will receive two new major productions in 2017 – Glyndebourne and Salzburg. This new Salzburg production will be directed by Peter Sellars. Judging by Sellars’ recent focus, I’m guessing it’ll be all about Vitellia’s feminist plight and the patriarchal hypocrisy of Tito. Curentzis sinks his teeth into another Mozart opera. I’m not sure what I think about that.
Well, what can I say? I can’t afford Salzburg but I’m curious how this new incarnation will work and how those who will star will fare.
thanks again to giulia for tipping me off🙂
Seeing as how it’s high Proms season, I thought I’d put a few reminders here in case any of you, dear local (or perhaps not so local? I don’t know how/if the iPlayer works outside the UK but I was able to access it a couple of years back) readers, would like to listen:
16 August: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Coote, Kunde and Mark Elder
19 August: Janacek’s The Makropulos Affair with Mattila
20 August: Mozart’s Mass in C minor
26 August: Mozart’s Requiem
30 August: JS Bach’s Cantata #82, “Ich habe genug” with Gerhaher
01 September: JS Bach’s Mass in B minor with Les Arts Florissants/Christie
04 September: Rossini’s Semiramide with Shagimuratova, Barcellona, D’Arcangelo etc.
09 September: Verdi’s Requiem
…and if you can’t listen and would like to, let me know and maybe we can work something out, as they are supposed to sit on the iPlayer for the next month or so.
Dvořák, Cello Concerto
Cello: Alban Gerhardt
Bartók, Bluebeard’s Castle
Bluebeard: John Relyea
Judit: Ildikó Komlósi
Conductor: Charles Dutoit | Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Radio 3 broadcasts all the Proms, so in case you’ve missed this event, you can listen to it here (opera starts at 1:19:00). The pre-opera talk (starting at 54:00) about Bluebeard‘s libretto and how Bartók got to writing an opera is also worth listening to, considering it’s both metaphorical and a keen psychological exploration of love and its consequences. In regards to the vocal style, two important things are discussed: Bartók was inspired by Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and adapted that very unoperatic way of writing to the prosody of Hungarian language, which is of course very different from French.
Alban Gerhardt did the solo cello honours on the Dvořák and then encored with Bach’s Prelude to the Cello Suite #6 in D major, which, though I didn’t know (and I didn’t hear what he said) I was able to recognise as Bach. So it’s not just Vivaldi😉 You can tell I’m not the biggest cello fan and I was actually a bit alarmed when I saw him return for an encore (let’s get on with the main dish!), but I will say I appreciated the emotional complexity of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto as well as Gerhardt’s gentle/feathery style.
Having (for sentimental reasons) booked a seat dangerously close to the organ and… behind the singers, I missed a great deal of the vocals so I returned to the Radio 3 broadcast myself, for further edification. Either the singers didn’t want to shout (well, they shouldn’t, it’s not that kind of opera) or sitting behind a bass and a mezzo is another definition for snookered. Common sense would sway one against sitting behind singers… except the hall is so big (capacity: 5,272) that the prospect of sitting central but too far from everything didn’t appeal.
The moral: if you want to hear the singers you need to fork out for a central seat or stand in the pit. I don’t want to stand in the pit unless it’s a rock concert (and even then, if a lawn chair is on offer I’ll leave the young and restless the pleasure of early onset varicose veins).
The good news is the orchestra’s sound was crystal clear. Even the harps were perfectly audible. Let alone the pipe organ, which unsettled me with its interventions. The radio broadcast will give you clarity for singers but loses orchestra’s spaciousness. If nothing else, the huge Royal Albert Hall showcases the sound of the orchestra.
And this is a mesmerising score that has to be heard in a hall rather than on record. Since seeing it last year and due to its brevity, I’ve become quite familiar with it (I’ve probably listened to the Kertesz/Berry/Ludwig version for about 20 times). I was on the edge of my seat throughout, with my eyes glued to the orchestra, eager to see who makes all the wonderful sounds which build this musical mystery. The singers didn’t much interact but in this case it made sense. Bluebeard should stay a cypher to the end.
But as far as I could hear, Komlósi sounds a shade brighter in the house compared to the broadcast. Relyea keeps the solidity and darkness but on the radio you can actually understand what he’s saying😉 Both of them did a very good job, with Komlósi downright outstanding in navigting this very interesting role; Judit’s initial enthusiasm, her subsequent forcefulness and her fears and horror were all there. Then again, she’s sung it once or twice, as well as recorded it.
I was curious if the spoken word intro would be skipped. It was kept, with Relyea reciting it in English, which was not a bad idea in itself, but I wish it wasn’t superimposed to the very evocative orchestral intro. It’s one of my favourite intros/overtures and I sometimes listen to it for its own sake.
There’s a strong jazz era atmosphere to it. In fact the music is so rich in texture and so vivid (with the xylophone and the celesta and all sorts of other percussion and the army of winds heavily featured and the harps and the pipe organ) it’s basically a film noire. It helps to know the jist of the libretto but you can survive very well without knowing every word; the music will show everything in a way that words can’t quite. This is, I think, one of Bartók’s great achievements: expressing the essence of the libretto, the beyond-words deep recesses of the human soul. Judit is the reasonable one who names the experiences behind each door.
The pre-opera talk panel members emphasise the extreme darkness of the libretto. I would say it’s rather just enough. Intimacy isn’t a walk in the park, is it? Usually there is a reason why hidden things aren’t being aired. And also: forcing someone to show things about themselves – things they are used to hiding – has an unsettling effect on that person.
As the opera starts, Bluebeard keeps urging Judit to enter. He sounds (to me) a bit uncertain, as if he doesn’t want to lose his nerve. Judit, of course, is all sunshine and good (she thinks) intentions. The panel touched on the role reversal, with Bluebeard beckoning and Judit being the active/penetrating force, the agent of change. Upon entering she discovers with amazement and some alarm that the castle has no windows/sunshine. But she plows on – and here Judit veteran Komlósi phrases the line with a wonderful mixture of apprehension and determination – to find the truth, because, as Judit says, she loves him.
With each demand for the key to the next door, the determination turns into the frenzy of realisation there is no way back and the admission of love gets smaller and more uncertain. It’s also interesting that Bluebeard, far from being menacing, keeps advising her to be cautious. He sounds like there is a struggle within him between being unable to resist her demands and a great reluctance to reveal himself. Anyone with a bit of Richard Strauss experience will recognise his influence in the piercing call of the flutes, heralding a new discovery.
The plinking of the celesta suggests the sparkling of the gold and jewels in the third room. I like how it keeps plinking whilst they’re talking. As I was saying, super cinematic. A solo horn then expresses the spaciousness of the garden (and its link to hunting, I suppose) behind the fourth door. The winds join it to add layers of foliage and then the flutes bring in the birds and butterflies. The broadcast really can’t translate the tremendousness of sound that came out that huge pipe organ when the 5th door opened. I knew what was coming and I was still like this :-O :-O :-O
All is thine forever, Judith.
Here both dawn and twilight flourish.
Here sun, moon, and stars have dwelling.
They shall be thy deathless playmates.
Can’t get more poetic than that in a libretto, eh? You can read the English translation here.
So Bluebeard has opened up to her but she, to the tune of a distant trumpet that acompanies the same grandious phrase now paler and sort of desintegrating, still focuses on the underlying bloodiness of his world. It’s hard, when you’ve opened up to someone, to see them underwhelmed and realise that they still have their own version of it all, which is a lot less grand than yours. Poor Bluebeard’s music gets downwright jazzy when he tries to entice her with his version of who he is. His style of seduction is cool and relaxed earlier on when he responds to her very energetic (dramatic soprano playground) demands and playful – even amorous – here. Yet she still wants to open the last two doors.
Finally Bluebeard has allowed the sunshine in, which was her goal (or so she thought) in the beginning, but now she‘s not happy. You can tell they both influenced each other. She made him share the burden, which, in turn, made him happy. He made her change her goal, from simply seeking happiness to looking for truth. Or maybe he just made her unhappy😉
The lake of tears is illustrated with the help of the harps and the celesta and it feels (to me) like stale water in a cement basement. This is a pretty good metaphor for tears. Then, interestingly again, the same phrase is done on a lower key on the harps when she doesn’t answer his call to kiss him. This is the trouble with these cinematic scores: you end up dissecting every phrase to the best of your ability, because every phrase hits emotionally.
The moment before the seventh door is opened is another very loud one, now heavy, as opposed to the major key one for the 5th door. It’s a good time as any to say that Maestro did an excellent job with the work, which covers a very wide range, from delicate ppps to Strauss-loud’n’heavy. Like I was saying earlier, I was on the edge of the seat throughout (thank goodness it’s short), never losing focus of the ever changing moods. And even on second listen via the broadcast I can tell it wasn’t just my appreciation for the music speaking. He reined in the orchestra very well and he navigated the transitions with lots of care, so that the myriad of details wouldn’t be lost.
A last interesting detail in the libretto is how, when telling Judit the stories of his three silent wives, Bluebeard doesn’t finish at the third one, but goes on to talk about her in the third person. Judit reminds him she’s still there. The description of the wives and Bluebeard giving them each the rule over the time of day when they met has echoes of Hades and Persephone. I’ve always felt they weren’t so much dead as enslaved in some way.
Most traditional societies tend to have myths where some earth spirit takes a wife from the land of living. She has a lot of freedom within his realm, with the one rule that she can never leave. Perhaps a metaphor for traditonal marriage😉 It’s interesting how, in what is essentially a pagan story, the truth does not set you free. People often stay together because of the convenience of familiarity.
An emotional – as well as intellectually challenging – evening and equally emotional re-listening to it on the radio. It’s one of those works that has wormed a special place in my heart, the kind I would always be happy to see live.
I don’t talk enough about Rossini (and even less so about La cenerentola), so le’t rectify this a bit today:
Considering I think JDD owns this role, I was very, very impressed with Semmingsen’s extra playful approach here. Wonderful handling of that hair curling coloratura🙂
So now let’s have Non piu mesta again, also in outdoors conditions:
edit: but since I’m of the moar mezzos mindset, how about Bartoli for the final?
As far as I know this early 2012 performance was the last time Tito was done in London and someone had the generosity to record it for all of us Titoheads. Because we’ve had it twice in 2014 in concert form but I don’t think bootlegs exist.
Tito: Michael Schade
Vitelia: Malin Hartelius
Sesto: Alice Coote
Annio: Christina Daletska
Servillia: Rosa Feola
Publio: Brindley Sheratt
Conductor: Louis Langrée | Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and Deutscher Kammerchor
Alice Coote stepped in for Garanca (lucky me!). A bit of digging showed Coote has sung Sesto before. It makes sense since her voice fits this role very well. I also think her unique touch for tragedy is very interesting for Sesto. So why, oh why isn’t ROH bringing Tito back to the stage when we’ve got such an excellent Sesto locally? Answer: because Glyndebourne’s snagged her for Vitellia😀
Hartelius has made good impressions in the past and I’m always game for a new Vitellia. Further, upon a (2 year old) convo with RnR, I thought I should expand my Vitellia taste. Schade is Mr. Tito. It’s always good to hear him in this role. He plays Tito pretty much the same way he did in the Salzburg DVD which is a-ok by me.
Overture: very muscular, mi piace, such nice contrast with the slow bit, which comes off very delicate. I also like that the bootlegger takes a deep breath just before the orchestra starts.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso…: Hartelius is annoyed although not OTT. Her “creamy” tone is very fetching. She and Coote make a more mature couple than usual. Interesting angle, maybe insidiously sinister? – in the sense that proper adults should know better.
Come ti piace imponi: these two match very well, they’ve got a similar kind of timbre, which makes them sound “couple-y”. It comes off very introverted (conspiratorial), rather unusual, with a unique allure. The descending lines in the orchestra were clearly emphasised.
Annio’s news: girly Annio here. Daletska sounds very serious, even annoyed at Vitellia’s sarcastic remark. Hartelius doesn’t sound that sarcastic, rather upset with Tito.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: mmmm, sexy lascia sospetti… tuooooooi. Hartelius has the right idea (and the right voice) even the second time when she revisits it a bit differently. It’s one of those slow and swinging ones, just right for big band orchestra treatment😉
Little bro Annio reminds Sesto why he’s really here: he and Servilia are ready to settle down. Sesto sounds very honest.
Deh, prendi…: barcarolle ahoy. Nice job. They blended so well I didn’t know who was who. Someone in the audience really liked it and clapped with one hand.
March/Serbate dei custodi: grand but bouncy, as it should be. I like Langrée’s style. The choir is well drilled, they’re pleased with Tito. Neat harpsi arpeggio at the end seguing into Tito’s recit.
Let’s take a moment and see what the choir has to say in this opera:
- Yay, Tito is grand! (Serbate dei custodi)
- Oh, no, they killed Tito! (Act I finale)
- Whew, they didn’t kill Tito! (Ah grazie se rendano)
- OMG, Tito is so merciful! We’re not worthy. (Act II finale)
Nicely balanced structure, n’est-ce pas?
Tito & all on how the loot should be used: Schade Vespasiano is benevolent but clearly in charge. He sounds a bit older but the tone is still beautiful. Publio sounds manly. Sesto tries to breach the subject in halting tones. Tito covers well. Sesto is really stricken by the news. What a good friend, eh. But wait, Annio outdoes him. He jumps in front of Tito and praises Servilia. Tito is pleased. The day might end in happiness, he thinks.
Del piu sublime soglio: really nice segue by Schade from the recit to “del”. He was born to sing this, was he not? Buttah. Pretty support from the orchestra.
Annio is gutted. I like Daletska’s recit skills. She’s not OTT but you get Annio’s torment.
Ah, perdona al primo affetto: Annio and Servilia mesh as well, not bad at all. As a result, I think Annio, Servilia and Sesto should sing a trio. Why isn’t there one?
Tito and Publio: leave me alone with this treason crap, buddy, says Tito. He does it along the Salzburg lines, only now he sounds more congenial. Servilia shows up, Tito gets all giddy. Servilia soulfully confesses. OMG, you rock so hard! says Tito. Someone close to the taper chuckled at Schade’s antics, whatever they were.
Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: you know how it is when you’ve done something inside out. Schade’s playing with this favourite aria or mine. I couldn’t ask for anything more; I’m just sitting here with a big grin on my face, thinking, maaaaan, I need to see this man in the concert hall. Why haven’t I yet!? And I just realised the intorno al trono tongue twister.
Vitellia sounds dark and menacing, all contained hatred, every word is a barb. Interesting. Feola’s Servilia dispatches the retort dryly. Hartelius continues with the barely suppressed displeasure. Whoever was laughing earlier chuckles at Vitellia’s irrational anger at Sesto. I mean s/he’s having a ball. I know what you mean. Vitellia sort of explodes but not really:
Vitellia: Is the Campidoglio in ashes? Is Tito dead?
Sesto: I’ve done nothing yet.
Sesto: Didn’t you say…?
Vitellia: Revenge! NOW!
I love how Vitellia smoothly makes it sound like her earlier raving was perfectly logical. Hartelius does a great job at “shaking” Sesto. It’s not exactly a sexy seduction but a powerful one nonetheless. The way she says corri, mi vendica e son tua sounds like she definitely means it and it will be the kind that involves knee boots and a riding crop.
Parto: AC’s Sesto sounds in awe of his Vitellia. The partos are like “whoa! she really said she’d be mine if I did it!”. Maestro goes slow on it but I don’t mind at all. Partos should be slow-ish, it takes the man a while to settle his pros and cons. Unsually playful clarinet, like the wheels turning in Sesto’s mind but also like mocking him. Maybe not as elastic as others but I liked the feel of it. It had character and that’s harder to find than canary singing. Judging by the enthusiastic applause and the shouting, the Barbican public agreed with me.
Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…: Vitellia is darkly pleased. Publio and Annio seem to have been looking for her everywhere (clearly the sedition talk was being had in a dark corner somewhere). Tito has summoned you, says Annio. Vitellia’s all taken aback: Tito (of all people)???? The same one who thinks your sister’s the dog’s bollocks? Publio spells it out for her in a grand voice and Annio underlines it in plain (and very.clearly.enunciated)
English Italian. The bootlegger or one of the neighbours chuckles loudly. People always laugh here but it is the one hilarious moment in the opera.
Vengo… Aspetatte… Sesto: the hilarity continues with this trio: (Vitellia) let’s go! No, wait! Where’s Sesto? Oh dear me, I just sent him to off my new fiance! (Publio and Annio) how cute, marital announcements always have a confusing effect on women! Maestro puts the pedal to the medal and the string section ends up sounding like the knife sharpening squad (in a good way). I love a very serious or plum sounding Vitellia like Hartelius at this moment, because she gets to sing ohime! and it sounds incongruous. The other two give her very good support at this high speed. If you notice, this trio mirrors the ending of the overture, which basically goes up/down/up/down/up/down. I guess if you speed it up too much it turns into the Benny Hill tune😉
Act I finale:
Sesto is a basket case from the getgo (Maestro sets the scene extra anxious for him). I heard Coote chewed major scenery as Dejanira (this Spring? last Spring? I know it was some year recently in March). Her Sesto would probably set fire to all 7 hills plus the suburbs. I mean if he managed to strike the match; by the way he’s going, he’d have a hard time not dropping all the matches on the floor first😉 Suffice to say, he’s all over the shop. But who wouldn’t be, if they had to choose between stabbing their BFF dead and never getting nookie ever again with the most high maintenance woman in Rome? No wonder Act II normally starts with Sesto considering the merits of retiring to a cottage in the countryside and raising goats (goats apparently are man’s other best friend beside dogs). Maybe the sequel sees him as a goatheard meet Tito, the farmer. Vezzoso pastorello, eh?😉
But until then Sesto wrestles with the fact that not only he can’t be a good friend but he can’t quite bring himself to do what Vitellia has made him swear to do. Nonetheless, he plows through with the wretched plan. Someone needs to tell him to lighten up and abort plans that just ain’t working. That someone isn’t Annio. When Annio comes in and says I don’t quite get what Sesto’s trying to say you really believe him. Daletska sounds so earnest! He’s not one for metaphors, and certainly not a suspicious type, but even he feels some doubts raising.
There’s a screechy chord from the strings that just spells creepy… and then the orchestra gets together to as the hammer of doom, when Servilia reveals that something’s not quite right about this fire. I have to admit Mozart builds up the frenzy quite nicely, as the orchestra is doubled by piercing cries from the chorus (good idea just having them reduced to onomatopeia), with our heroes mincing about like puny humans. It’s also nice how everything just slows down as Sesto returns. He’s obviously so confused (and perhaps there’s smoke everywhere), that even as he says he’s trying to hide he’s run right back to his friends. Vitellia doesn’t lose her head: what’s up with Tito? OMG, says Sesto (he probably is happy to confess the horrid circumstance that has changed his life), I saw his soul departing his body… Everybody’s like …!!! Who could have possibly done this?! Clearly this lot have not been raised on Crime TV, where family and friends are always the prime suspects. A most despicable man, nature itself shudders to think of him, it was… – is what Sesto is happy to supply. Shh! Shh, enough with the details before we get you legal counsel, Vitellia wisely suggests. But it’s ok, our chorus has stopped listening after the bit about the soul leaving the body. Except Publio but we’re not supposed to know that yet.
Maestro has organised this one very well, it’s captivating and clear. It’s always interesting to hear the act dissipate amids the pulsating hammers of doom + cries of tradimento (it’s Rome, legal matters will come into dicsussion).
Annio : Sesto: in these case, these two are very young in spirit. Annio well intentioned, anxious and naive (but also resourceful) and Sesto, too impulsive not to fall for Vitellia’s calculated charms.
Torna di Tito a lato: perhaps a bit over-enunciated but Daletska knows which ones of her notes sound beautiful and uses them. This is an aria which benefits from being sung beautifully.
Partir deggio, o restar…?: Vitellia must’ve been hiding behind a pillar because Sesto doesn’t even have time for vacillation. She tells him in a matter of fact way that he has to make himself scarce. Sesto makes it a point – in a voice half sad, half outraged – that he would never betray her.
Publio must’ve hidden behind the other pillar, because he sneaks up on them and he and Sesto don’t have the back and forth about the sword. He just says give it up, I know you did it. Vitellia sounds tired in o, colpo fatale…! Perhaps she herself is relieved that she didn’t have to live with the fear of being discovered. Sesto’s focus remains on Vitellia and in this instance it sounds like he’s blaming her for talking too loudly.
Se al volto mai ti senti: the oboe seems a bit dry but it might’ve been the acoustics. This sets the tone for the least ethereal Se al volto… I can remember. All three have this earthy quality to their voices which makes Vitellia remorseful in a practical manner (as if saying ok, perhaps I could’ve used Sesto in a way that didn’t run the risk of his demise), Sesto seems determined to look fate squarely in the eyes and Publio is a by the books type. Hartelius gives us a crisp, vivid, almost touching first che crudelta! complete with “thoughtful” descending trill and expert ppp on -ta. Sheratt makes the most of his “head shake” lines. As the tempo speeds up for the conclusion, Hartelius reprises that beautiful ppp (Vitellia’s starting to get a glimpse of the larger picture) and Sesto gets more reproachful – especially on the last che crudelta, which Coote dominates.
Ah grazie se rendano: starts quite hesitantly. The choir ain’t bad at all, nice balance between the male and female voices. When Schade came in I got this image of his Tito dancing by himself at his own birthday party. Don’t ask. Just after Tito finishes his lines there is this long note on the flute/oboe that here comes off more dissonant than before and it really fits the not quite mood.
Publio : Tito: Tito of course can’t believe that his Sesto could betray him. Schade uses his most useful sound to make Tito extra trusting. Publio sounds close to the limit of his patience in non han tutti il cor di Tito.
Tardi s’avvede: very good, strong, good straight-up Publio. Sheratt uses a lot of colour, seemingly determined to leave an impression. He finds the right balance of colour/tone/chutzpah relative to the size of the aria and it works.
Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito sounds like he’s cheering himself up (remember him dancing with himself earlier?) that Sesto can’t possibly be that bad in spite of Publio’s sung insinuation of treason. Annio seems scared shitless but also appears to think that speaking the bitter truth in a chipper manner might actually make it less awful. Publio underlines in a thundering voice: WHAT DID I TELL YOU, BOSS? – SESTO IS GUILTY! Tito is like : – O Annio tries to get his attention, hoping for mediation. Schade’s Tito is on the brink of tears when he replies leave me alone, Annio! Then he gets all irate and throws something at Publio which makes Annio freeze. But he (Annio) recovers and goes on. What a good friend, can I have his number?
Tu fosti tradito: remember how I said (twice) Daletska makes the effort to enunciate? An almost lost skill nowadays. Maybe that’s why she sounds a bit OTT with it. But the way she says morrrrte is butter. Never has it sounded so allur(rrr)ing. Also it kinda works with the moment, as if to illustrate how much guts it takes to plead with Tito when in this irate state. In the end it’s kinda great. There’s dynamic variation, it’s not screechy and it is impassionate. Plus all the words are clear and even though they sound more like a Central European impression of Italian, there is beauty in those sounds.
Tito is conflicted: and Schade is very musical. It segues smoothly into
Quello di Tito e il volto: it’s not usually that Publio has the biggest voice but in this case Sheratt towers over the others volume-wise. Coote’s Sesto is suddenly apprehensive. Very wistful addio…! But she drives the trio well, muscularly rising over the other two’s né gli occhi ardisce alzar. Schade’s Tito, as usual, is annoyed. The trio is quite intense, finishes before you realise.
Tito : Sesto: friendly, understanding Tito, even though he is appalled by what appears to be the truth. Schade’s Tito traditionally has a short fuse. It’s now Sesto who sounds like a self-flagellating lover (it’s not you, it’s me). Tito seems to kinda like this (just tell me you love me and I’ll forgive it all – but of course Sesto can’t say yes). He (Sesto) begs for a last kiss as if the realisation dawns on him that this is truly the end (as in, he will die). Up until now he seemed more preoccupied with gathering his courage and holding his own in front of Tito.
Deh, per questo instante solo: Coote starts this in a very sombre mood. It’s driven more by the need to make a favourable impression on Tito than by a focus on the good old days. Generally her Sesto is built on a realistic sense of duty and here a pressing need to redeem his name. The way she says se vedessi questo cor suggests more stark admission of guilt than a desire to save his arse. This Sesto is thus characterised before everything by his sense of honourability. Coote’s final di dolor x2 hammers home his conviction that he is at fault and that he doesn’t think he deserves to be pardoned. It’s one of the most restrained and unsentimental versions.
Tito makes up his mind: Tito still seems hurt but greatly appreciative of his BFF’s courage to face up to his mistake. He knows the law would be merciless but the way he says Sesto is reo… Sesto mora! is very detached. It’s the nature of management to have to uphold rules that one does not believe in. But what of rules that go against one’s own sense of self? Sometimes I think that more than a generous ruler Tito is the symbol of a corrupt ruler – my friends above all! To be fair, Mestastasio has taken care to have him pardon random dissenters in Act I. Anyway, this is not the way Tito sees it: he’s all about another opportunity to parade his generosity and Schade is always good at expressing this abstract side of him.
Se all’impero: behold, my generosity! The sheer pomposity of that abstractness infuses Schade’s take. He launches into it all guns blazing, oozing earnest amazement in his own goodness. Then he uses his arsenal of dynamics to go from f to ppp with rubato on top to underline the most virtuous parts of his argument. The ardent, even nervous tackle on the coloratura mirrors that amazement.
Vitellia : Servilia : Annio: we jump over Vitellia’s trying to ferret info out of Publio and go straight to her recit with Sesto’s people. Vitellia sounds panicked, the others anxious to get her to intercede for Sesto. Hartelius sounds grand on Annio! Non son’ Augusta ancor…! The subtext is but I really, really hope I’m wrong so, please, for the love of all that is holy, tell me so. He indulges her. She is so sure of the inevitability of getting what’s rightfully hers that she isn’t even surprised. Once again the practical one, she muses that Sesto must’ve kept his promise to her. Somewhere in middle thought she finally sees him for the good guy he is, which up to now was only useful to her. Now it’s someobody actually cares about me enough to go against not only his own views and interest but against the love someone else has for him. That’s a pretty strong realisation for anyone to have (though, frankly, people in that position are usually selfish enough to never reach it).
A bit OT, the other day I was reading about limerence, something I’d never heard of before. If you don’t know what it is, here’s the jist: infatuation is bad for you. Reading about it invalidates love poetry and romcoms down the ages but avoiding it 1 makes practical sense. Also it makes me wonder that there are indeed people out there who have never felt the “ravages” love/infatuation can wreak on you. Though it is perfectly sensible to wish for infatuation never to visit you, it also seems like something is lost, like life would be less lively without its occasional tornadoes. Maybe we’re just conditioned that way.
In any case, Sesto seems an excellent example of the debilitating effect of extreme limerence. He’s in love and that takes him from ecstasy to the pits of hell in a manner that seems unhinged. His sobre moments suggest he’s indeed not lacking judgment in other areas of his life.
But back to Vitellia: her warming up to the realisation that Sesto loves her is a sign she’s not a complete narcissist, just a woman up her own arse. Now she seems mortified at having lost the one person who would do everything for her. The way Hartelius does it seems more genuine than usual.
S’altro che lagrime: not bad at all, in fact rather great. Can’t fault it at all.
Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori: Maestro drives an energetic, rather rigorous tempo that translates into an unsentimental feel for the recit. Hartelius’ Vitellia is strong enough to take stock of her own shortcomings. There’s sentiment when she pronounces Sesto’s name. His love for her is all encompassing but his (subconscious) goodness goes beyond it, hence his failure. She knows now that in essence he did do her bidding, even if practically he couldn’t carry it out. So how is she going to respond to that proof of love? She realises that she won’t be able to cast him aside as useless to her now that she’s got what she wanted. So on one hand Sesto couldn’t physically be a murder and on the other she herself can’t walk over his dead body and pretend it doesn’t mean anything to her. Her addio in speranze… addio! is said in a strangled way. It’s hard for her to give her hopes up but she does nonetheless. This Vitellia is not the same Vitellia of Come ti piace, imponi. She sees now that her initial sense of identity was unrealistic, most likely driven by outside pressures.
Hartelius sings the rondo proper in a way that suggests quiet realisation rather than impassioned repentance. Her voice has the noblesse suitable to Vitellia’s upbringing and suggests a level of self-awareness for our heroine that precludes self aggrandizing or cheap drama. Where Naglestad’s Vitellia has to tackle the consequences of her own cynical irrestibility and Roschmann’s is faced with the imperative necessity of dousing her firey self interest, this one’s meltdown is along the lines of admitting fair enough, I tried being smart and it didn’t work. Perhaps my whole approach to life was wrong. And the tragedy is, it’s now that I realise I was wrong when everybody is going to think I’m a bitch. The basset horn goes very gentle on her (sweet tone! sweet descrescendo!), because it agrees she’s a more congenial Vitellia after all. That creamy tone I mentioned in Come ti piace, imponi makes this a very alluring rendition. Hartelius also places the low G where she should.
Act II finale
Non piu di fiori segues right into the finale, which is done in the dome-like way, with quite a strong Baroque whiff. Tito tries to sound pissed off but we know he’s only doing this to set up the grand surprise of his generosity. You know he’s been choreographing this ever since he sent Publio to get Sesto to the arena. Vitellia sounds like she kinda likes confessing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she found it easier to do this with an audience than in private. More chuckling from the audience as Tito is wondering just how many self-confessed traitors would spring up today. But it’s working nicely for him. He pretty much flings freedom at all rather than offering it on a velvet cushion. Sesto sounds like he can’t quite believe his ears and swears he’ll repent forever. Maybe he’ll set up a charity. Tito strokes his scruff and says good boy.
But even more importantly we have a very good Eterni dei. The choir has done a sterling job throughout, but then one can trust a German choir to be solid and keep up with the orchestra and soloists. The male and female sides are very well balanced (yes, I said it before but it bears repeating, especially in the context of Eterni dei).
This is a very good example of teamwork in opera, so thank you Maestro for energising your people and keeping a very strong balance among the parts of the whole. Everybody worked hard to the best of their seizable abilities, which, for a concert version is fantastic (but then, in spite of its acoustics, the Barbican has seen some very strong concert versions over the years). I would recommend it to fans of the singers and of Tito, it’s a very solid modern-sounding addition to the Tito catalogue.
- it appears you can’t avoid it or wish for it if you’re not naturally predisposed to it. ↩
A couple of years ago I saw Diana Damrau in La traviata. To this day I remember her È tardi! after Violetta reads Germont Sr.’s apologetic letter. Was she pitch perfect, did she navigate each act with the appropriate vocal, emotional and technical range set out by Verdi? I think so, but I don’t quite remember it all. What I do recall is that È tardi! Her delivery resonated with my own regrets and losses and it stayed with me and most likely will for a while yet.
There are, of course, anally rententive people out there who will strike your performance for a missed high C or too much vibrato/rubato/portamento, too little volume etc., but generally I think audiences are rather after these elusive moments of connection. We identify with the character, and the singer, channeling the character, speaks/sings for us and then catharsis happens (everybody wins).
Easy for us to say please, singers, live the character’s life on stage tonight. But how did Damrau get to be so effective with that È tardi!? Whatever regret/loss did she have to access? We won’t know but she had to connect with something real within herself. In some ways that might be harder than hitting the high C. It’s not just discipline and honing your skills and taking care of your voice, it’s also putting yourself out there (but learning how not to lose yourself in the moment):
I like this chap. I think he’s helping singers build essential tools in a very direct way yet with a lot of gentleness.