Clemenza as reality TV (La Monnaie aka Bruxelles, 2013)
- Tito: Kurt Streit
- Vitellia: Veronique Gens
- Sesto: Anna Bonitatibus
- Annio: Anna Grevelius
- Servillia: Simona Šaturová
- Publio: Alex Esposito
Conductor: Ludovic Morlot | La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, October 2013
A curious one. The director says cameras are always present on stage because Tito’s life is completely public, even the part he thinks of as private. This certainly resonates with our society and is likely the reason Clemenza has had such an extraordinary revival in recent years. Maybe the take isn’t very subtle but it aligns with the text.
I was saying in the Don Giovanni review that Gens’ Donna Elvira really made me want to hear her Vitellia and now I have. Boni is one of the few singers whose voice I think fits Sesto very well. I knew she’d sung him in Holland about 10 years back (and quite possibly since) and her Parto from that production has been on my mobile for a long time. Kurt Streit left me indifferent when I heard him live in Theodora. I was rather surprised to see Alex Esposito as Publio but I guess it’s a good outing for baby basses (is he still one?). His Leporello wasn’t bad in February and I’ll comment on his Figaro next week when I see him again.
Overture: quite rubato-y with piercing strings which highlight the underlying sense of danger more perhaps than usual. Even the lovely, laid-back part in the middle sounds choppy and martial. We’ve been warned: this will be particularly angsty.
About halfway through we get to see the stage. It looks like an open plan pad (bedroom/lounge), which gives it a hotel feel. I don’t think patricians would live in a bedsit. Tito is already seated at the desk/bar, although he’s neither drinking nor working. He’s just sitting there, seemingly lost in thought. He’s not exactly intrusive but it feels odd having him there during Sesto and Vitellia’s very private chat. These two show up soon, first Sesto, who draws the curtains and looks out the window then Vitellia, who takes off her fur coat and sits down on a chair, looking tense. In the libretto it’s supposed to be early morning but they look like they just got back from some sort of shindig or show. Maybe they partied all night. They don’t look worse for wear but the tension between them is palpable and not in a good way. Vitellia seems to be spoiling for a fight whilst Sesto tries really hard to avoid it. I find it interesting and spot on how they come in from different sides of the stage and how the bed is actually two beds pushed together.
Neither of them seems aware of Tito. I guess it’s the idea of Tito, then. There is a screen above on which parts of the stage are projected, sometimes frontally (close-ups) but also from above, as there seem to be a couple of cameras on the ceiling. I liked this use of projection quite a bit. Often times in opera productions you feel like directors try really hard to incorporate video because it’s hip but don’t manage to get creative enough so it doesn’t look tacked on.
Interestingly, a bunch of people come in to mess up the room whilst our murderous lovers are seething on their own. (Is this to suggest outside forces are messing with their lives?) I suppose a proper fight is implied. Whether any sex was involved is debatable. My take is this relationship has been on the rocks for some time.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso: so that gentle Donna Elvira was a bit of a Holten fluke, eh? In this production Gens is a majorly nagging Vitellia. She effectively locks Sesto’s balls in her drawer. I don’t know if I ever felt more for a Sesto (maybe Poulson‘s). Poor chap, he’s so well-meaning. He even got her lovely, romantic wild flowers. You can tell he loves her so much he worships the ground she treads on.
I’m faced here with a performer I love in a role I think fits her yet a rather annoying take on a beloved character. On the other hand, do I see Boni as a strong Sesto? Ponder, ponder. She really gets his introversion but maybe she doesn’t have the necessary ballsiness to suggest that there could be more to him. The major height difference between Sesto and Vitellia also works against Boni. Her Sesto is cute and tiny and soulful. Imagining him and Gens’ tall and high maintenance Vitellia together is problematic. She’s a proper praying mantis.
I’m not sure why, but the conductor elected to keep the recits very lengthy. To their credit, Boni and Gens move through them with ease. I think this length might go towards humanising Vitellia a bit. She’s enough of a bitch when she gets her coat and tells Sesto to fuck off. He grabs hold of the coat and she lets go of it just so she could be rid of him. Sesto sheepishly says perdonami, sniffs at her coat and decides to put it on. Awww.
Come ti piace, imponi: things improve a lot when we get to singing. Boni’s gentle boyish voice works well and Gens doesn’t sound too shabby herself. Vitellia hands Sesto a kitchen knife. The mille affetti insieme bit comes of gorgeously.
As Annio shows up in a snazzy pin-striped suit, complete with waistcoat, Sesto self consciously takes off Vitellia’s coat. Annio looks on bemused. He tells Sesto that Tito would like to see him, to which Gens’ Vitellia does a great job at mocking the fact that Tito and Berenice appear joined at the hip. Do I have news for you, says Annio. Tito has given Berenice the slip. Well acted whoas all around. The recit goes on along the usual lines and it gives me the time to realise this Annio is more stylish than Sesto and that Vitellia wears only a night slip under her fur coat.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: after Annio leaves, Vitellia tells Sesto to postpone the plan, then mocks him when he complains about her fucking with his mind. He finally drops the knife in anger (the internalised sort of anger that leads to one too many stiff drinks) and walks off. Or tries to, because Vitellia, unperturbed, knows she can pull his strings any time. She merely rolls her eyes and thinks huffy, are we? Indeed, as soon as she starts singing he turns, gets them the first of said drinks then comes to sit by her. She uses the rest of the aria to get him turned on and of course it works. Gens is not bad but not fantastic either. I don’t know why; it feels a bit detached? I also didn’t particularly like her ornaments. She sounded a lot better and more engaging when I saw her this February past. Sadly I wouldn’t be able to analyse the difference in singing Vitellia vs. Donna Elvira.
Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: lovely singing. Boni and Grevelius look very convincing as best buddies, efficient choreography. When Sesto fixes Annio’s collar it strikes me that Annio must’ve put on his best suit in order to maximize the impression on Tito when asking for Servillia’s hand. Sesto checks his iPhone, grabs a bottle and the BFFs are off to Tito’s, which means actually returning to the same room 😉
March/Serbate dei custodi: the people who had earlier messed up Sesto’s bedroom come to restore the order. A bunch of motley dressed people (aka, the chorus) show up from the woodwork to sing praises to Tito. You can tell, though, that there’s a glass separating them from Tito’s office. He finally comes to life and gets up from his desk. He’s wearing a striped, plush dressing gown.
Publio, dressed in a raspberry-coloured casual suit and armed with both iPhone (which he continuously consults) and iPad (which he uses to show Tito the projected statue) and stylish Annio talk to Tito about the bounty the vassals have presented. They both look very official. Sesto sits on the bed doing nothing. Tito appears uninterested in shop talk until it occurs to him that the money should be used to alleviate the Vesuvius victims’ plight. Streit’s Tito looks rather fatherly but is believably kind and human. As he philosophises about taking care of his subjects he gets more and more animated and present. He puts on a suit jacket and says only Annio and Sesto should stay. Publio thinks well, cheers for that, mate. I’m busting my arse here looking out for you and all you care about is peacock-Annio and that Vitellia-whipped Sesto.
Annio urges Sesto to speak for him and he obliges in his roundabout way. He tries to first find out what had happened between Tito and Berenice. Tito seems distraught but stays true to his painful decision to send the beloved woman away. His focus is now on Sesto, whom he wants to reward for being such an all around good guy. In this production their relationship seems to be more mentor and pupil than lovers. That’s a valid angle, too. The BFFs are striken by his announcement that he wants to marry Servillia. Annio is the sang froid kind and he speaks very eloquently even in distress. Once again I wonder why Tito doesn’t see how much more politically astute Annio is. But no, he’s taken with his tiny Sesto as usual, so much so that he doesn’t even notice how bummed Annio is. This Sesto sounds perfectly sincere when he says he’s overwhelmed with Tito’s generosity. Tito is also overwhelmed – with affection for him.