The Napoleon-era Clemenza Act II (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 -> pic lifted from operaselfies
Act II opens with BFFs Annio and Sesto overacting a bit more, each in his own way: Annio whiny and Sesto crazed. Torna di Tito a lato suffers from the same weepy timbre from Annio. That’s how Hall sounds, it either works for you or it doesn’t. It rather annoys me. but she gets applause at the end so I’m in minority.
Vitellia shows up to urge Sesto to flee and she’s pretty convincing in her panic. Sesto puts on a tough face when he says pah, of course I’m not going to betray you! and when he demands to know why Publio wants his sword. He’s supposed to feel defeated… The recit is again a bit too fast. Al fin, tiranna should be heartbreaking and it isn’t, although ingrata, addio is good.
Se al volto mai ti senti: the gorgeous trio where Sesto sings higher than Vitellia is satisfyingly paced. Vitellia’s che crudelta! has got a good dose of ambiguity. I quite like Majeski here, maybe it’s her low notes which I enjoy more then her top.
Ah, grazie si rendano: the chorus sings praise to the lords for keeping Tito safe. Reminds me of the women’s chorus in Lucio Silla where Giunia is visiting her father’s grave. Tito joins them with his my people still love me bit. It’s not much, but it’s lovely and Polenzani has the right feel for the moment. He could sound more anxious in the following recit. He seems very optimistic and sure of himself for somebody who just survived an assassination attempt.
Tardi s’avvede: Van Horn has a deep voice and gives a very tender intonation to the word tardi which is interesting. I don’t know that I feel the captain of the guards in this voice but he’s certainly a caring friend.
Again Polenzani could sound more distressed. He only gets upset after he Annio is unable to deny the rumours about Sesto’s guilt. He orders all away but whiny Annio grows a pair and pleads with him. We get one of those slightly hysterical Tu fosti traditos.
Maestro Davis immediately launches into Tito’s long and tormented recit. Polenzani gets all Italian tenor in full cry. It’s loud but not necessary tormented. He then ponders aloud midtempo. The level of drama is also middling. Chop-chop, Maestro whisks Quello di Tito e il volto in. I can’t read JDD’s Sesto in the beginning. Polenzani’s Tito sounds affected by the sight of his BFF. Publio is soulful in the background. Tito gets annoyed as Sesto isn’t coming closer and stays staccato during palpito, traditore! which I liked. JDD’s top is gorgeous but I still think Sesto needs to sound more defeated.
Tito is right pissed off with Sesto when they’re alone. Sesto self flagellates in a more convincing manner than before. It works and Tito melts. He wants them to work it out. Sesto fails to cooperate, although he’s loud enough whilst doing so. Tito is annoyed to the max. It reminds me a bit of Vitellia and Sesto’s interactions. This Sesto exasperates people a lot, I guess, but the reverse is also true.
Deh, per questo instante solo: if Parto is the moment Sesto springs into action, this is the moment where he needs to pull his resources for some major damage control. Things have gone the best they could have given the circumstances, but he’s in deep shit. He says he’s not afraid to die, but I think on some level he is. Of course, he’s even more scared to be remembered as a traitor. JDD’s/McVicar’s Sesto is unquestionably virtuous save for his earlier lapse so it’s that more tragic for him that Tito believes him odious. I like my Deh, per questo seasoned with more self loathing and ambiguity but that’s not to say JDD doesn’t do a mean job with her good guy in a sticky situation. Maybe this Sesto is so virtuous he doesn’t even understand self loathing properly.
Tito fights with himself in the face of such a brutal attack on his goodness and generosity. Logic and affect command him to get his revenge and his Sesto mora! is dead on. It’s the kind of pent-up emotion I normally like for Clemenza. I figure by the big pause that he signs the death sentence. He then melts again and gives into his love for his BFF. He sounds very heroic when he announces to Publio that Sesto’s fate is decided. Having got major spoilers during the intermezzo chat on the twist at the end of this production, I can see why his clement decision is more intense than usual1.
Se all’impero: Maestro Davis commands the orchestra to play in the grandest manner, as it befits this grandest of arias. Polenzani is as grand as his bright lyric voice allows. The coloratura is all right.