Kertesz’s Rome Clemenza (Rome, 1970)
Maestro Kertesz, who recorded the seminal 1967 Vienna set, returned to conduct Clemenza in Rome in 1970. Strangely, Maria Casula, who sang Vitellia on his 1967 recording, sings Annio here. I greatly enjoyed Kertesz’ conducting on the original set and he doesn’t disappoint here.
Tito: Franco Bonisolli
Vitellia: Janet Coster
Sesto: Beverly Wolff
Annio: Maria Casula
Servillia: Mietta Sighele
Publio: Luigi Roni
Conductor: Istvan Kertesz | Orchestra e Coro della Rai | Roma, 19/12/1970
Overture: I like Kertesz’s conducting, there’s something very visual about it. The layering is evident and there’s a sense of excitement about it.
Come ti piace imponi: that’s right, we jump straight to it. Wolff has a nice, full voice – good for Sesto. Coster sounds matronly. I don’t know how she looks like but based on that voice it’s hard to imagine Sesto jelly-kneed for her. The tempo is very slow. Kertesz elects to barely speed up proceedings in the mille affetti section. The voices mix beautifully but there’s no momentum.
We also jump over Annio’s recit and get to Vitellia’s hopeful conclusion that Tito ain’t so bad after all. Let me get this straight: Vitellia just requested to have Tito offed by sundown and now she’s like oh, never mind? Haha, recit-chopping fail. No wonder Sesto is so confused.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: Coster’s voice is beautiful, full and secure – but too heavy and dramatic. It’s just not sexy in the least. Shows you why a good Vitellia is hard to find. Ah, no, non mi stancar, no is so boringly done I wanted to cry. Maestro also goes rather walzy on it. This, imo, is a rubato-happy number, jazzy in feel – here slow and seductive, there impetuous or playful. The things a proper Vitellia can do with it! – the chutzpah, the mockery, the coquetry, the shamelessly patronising attitude: this is the moment Vitellia shows us why she’s irresistible. Coster focuses on the sound – which is impressive all right – but this aria is all about characterisation. I didn’t feel any. Remember Dr. Cox in Scrubs?
Annio is finally allowed a foot in the door. Casula sounds heavier than Wolff but also girlier.
Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: I couldn’t tell them apart but it’s a pretty duettino so why complain? It sounded low and serious.
March/Serbate dei custodi: slow and majestic. The tempo is majorly sped up in Serbate. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know. The Rai chorus was pleasant.
None of that mighty loot for a mighty Emperor bollocks here, Tito just asks his homies to stay behind then we get the reprise of the march. Nice voice for Tito – the noble, benevolent kind, who’s not given to major inner turmoil but instead to Imperial declamation. Indeed he gets rather breezily over the Berenice business when questioned by Sesto.
Del piu sublime soglio: Bonisolli has a darker voice than your usual Tito but it’s agile.
Ah, perdonna il primo affetto: chop, chop, we’re here. Might as well. Sighele has pleasant high notes for Servillia. Not one for the ages but not bad. Casula sounds like her mum. Maybe we need more mother-daughter duets. Come to think of it, Annio/Annia as Sesto and Servillia’s mum would make a lot of sense.
Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: you see how it is? Merciless on recits. I admit I like my Ah, se fosse sung by a lighter voice. Bonisolli is a bit shouty and light on subtlety – you know, italianate. The tempo is pleasantly brisk.
No sooner does Tito finish his aria in praise of honesty that Sesto lands in Vitellia’s angry clutch. I don’t know if this is how this performance was done – if, indeed, it was a performance and not a studio recording for the radio – but if you care at all about the plot it doesn’t make any sense to keep certain recits and not others. Now I have heard it mentioned so many times that the recits ugh! they weren’t written by Mozart!!!. Ok, we get it. Neither were the recits of Rossini’s operas, and I don’t see much agitation around those. The point is, you need the recits to make sense of the plot in any non through composed opera. Besides, it’s just chords.
But back to Sesto and his angry bird. Courtesy of the abbreviated recit, he gets quite quickly overcome by Vitellia’s nagging and swears to do her bidding. But Vitellia isn’t convinced. She raises her voice and bitches about how she can just tell he’ll be won over by Tito’s goodness. No, no, no, says Sesto very slowly, as if saying it slowly makes it more poignant – well, maybe but not in that defeated voice – I really am your sex slave etc. Vitellia asks Perche non parti? in a similarly slow but hardly menacing or angry tone. Coster relies on the fullness of her voice to get the point across. I guess she does go for menace.
Parto: the orchestral opening is done in an interestingly hesitant, questioning manner which reflects Sesto’s ambivalence very well. Wolff’s twin partos are plump but don’t match the orchestra’s indecision as far as I’m concerned. They’re also samey. Nice job the clarinetist, who gets the uncertainty across. The technical limitations of this recording make Wolff sound a bit potato-mouthed. Pity, as I like her voice. The guardamis are interesting and different from each other although both gentle. Uncertainty comes through. The clarinet is lovely throughout the mad roulades at the end and the dialogue between it and Wolff is nice. However, Maestro might’ve been asleep or something – I’d have liked a speedier tempo for the ending. Sesto doesn’t sound significantly changed and he should, he’s worked himself into a frenzy. The tempo loses momentum during alla beltas (they are samey and rhythmic) – a pity again. It’s such an exciting ending, why not go all out on it?
Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: come on, Vitellia, it’s ok to get all gleeful here. Well, she doesn’t. She’s dour. Ti pentirai! is better but imagine it said by Lady Macbeth. Publio – remember, there’s a Publio in this opera – and Annio bring her the surprising news.
Vengo… Aspettate… Sesto…: Maestro has found his fire and puts the pedal to the metal here. Coster once again goes for sound and she only has to strain a bit at the top but the notes she squeezes aren’t unpleasant. Publio and Annio sound very rhythmic.
Act I finale
Nicely done orchestral beginning with a lot of well handled rubato. It’s a very stop-and-go moment in the opera, lots of tension. Wolff starts well and handles Sesto’s vacillation sensitively. Annio, Servillia, Publio and the chorus all do well, but Vitellia once again doesn’t sound like a fetching young woman in distress. You know, Vitellia can be verklempt here. Thus ends Act I in 50min.