The Napoleon-era Clemenza Act I (Chicago, 2014 via Aix-en-Provence, 2011)
- Tito: Matthew Polenzani
- Vitellia: Amanda Majeski
- Sesto: Joyce DiDonato
- Annio: Cecelia Hall
- Servillia: Emily BIrsan
- Publio: Christian Van Horn
Conductor: Andrew Davis
Lyric Opera of Chicago | Chorus & Orchestra of LOC, March 2014
LOC is currently running the Aix-en-Provence Clemenza production1 recast as above. I found the audio recording by complete accident and… what can you do when your arm is being twisted by a production you had long been curious about? Even though it’s not technically that production because it’s got no video and the cast is completely different. Irregardless – as some would say – of course I listened.
The broadcast comes with commentary from JDD (on Sesto), McVicar (on the production), Maestro Andrew Davis (on the opera), Rene Fleming (on the technical demands on singing Mozart) and the hosts. The commentary includes some glaring historical misinformation on the timeline of what went before the day this opera focuses on. I know, I know, Metastasio himself took a lot of liberty with the real events but still! If you’re going to give info, be precise.
Overture: brisk business, engaging.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso: ok, ok, calm down,
ladies people! That was quite over the top. Hello, Joyce, that you? Sesto isn’t exactly a go-getter type, so chill a bit, yo. After hearing JDD’s very muscular take on this recit I’m reminded that Sesto is an introvert. He’s an intense chap whose biggest enemy is not Vitellia but himself. The important battle is always within.
I believe her (JDD) when she says she feels for him – don’t we all? – but she should hold back from overprotecting him by giving him a very clear shape. The whole point of Vitellia’s scheming is to finally galvanise him into action. If he’s outwardly dynamic from the get-go there’s no dramatic build-up to the temporary madness that overtakes him.
Come ti piace imponi: their bickering continues. Beautifully sung. Convincing? Vitellia needs more focused intensity and less hysterics.
During Annio’s morning news recit Vitellia and Sesto sound like the kind of couple whose neighbours call the cops on them all the time. It’s all moving a bit too quick.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: vocally, Majeski is neither sexy or sarcastic. She’s… not very expressive, quite cold when this is not the aria to sound icy – and she’s not a cold Vitellia from what I can gather up to this point. Her voice is plump enough and she copes with the technical demands but I’d like her to take an emotional stand. Without that she’s just singing notes in the right order.
Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: Annio is sweet and a bit whiny, Sesto is the loyal and trustworthy friend – a bit too solid, in fact. Sesto is an elusive chap and currently in a bit of a mess. He sounds like he momentarily forgot all about Vitellia.
March/Serbate, dei custodi: I hate the fact that this is not the video version because doing this bit as a military parade with sword routine was a bloody great idea 😀 It used to be on youtube but it was taken down for some reason very recently (last month, I think). In any case it’s done in a satisfyingly muscular way. The chorus is pretty good.
Tito and BFFs are left alone. Annio whines some more about Servillia’s qualities.
Del piu sublime soglio: Matthew Polenzani has a nice voice for a straight-forward, honest-type Tito, sort of like Dahlberg’s (the Tito type not the voice) from the Drottningholm production. It’s done very slowly.
Annio cries in his paw about his predicament. Servillia seems a bit bored in the beginning then panics.
Deh, perdonna il primo affetto: Annio and Servillia both have pleasant voices and they mix well. Annio really tries to be emotional but Servillia needs to work a bit harder at emotional involvement.
In a properly authoritative tone, Publio clucks about those out there bitching against the emperor. Tito rolls his eyes in the noblest way. A still panicked Servillia comes in to say she’s ok to get married, only, if at all possible, not to Tito. Wish granted, says Tito, you’re way cool, chica. He sounds really excited and enunciates very clearly.
Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: I don’t think I used any of the previous 43628475 occasions to express how much I like this aria, so I’ll do it now. I love it. From the tu-tu tu-tu tu-tu intro to un vasto impero! through the trills of ma saria felicita. Grand stuff the likes of which Wolfie probably churned out in his sleep and Polenzani sounds wide-eyed happy. He gets applause. For all the Sesto-Vitellia breakneck speed, Davis allows Tito a pleasant tempo for his arias.