Boring opera? Boring production? Poor singing? Tired conducting?

Which is it?

Youtube recommended me this version of Se all’impero I had not heard before. I listened and then decided to look up the production1. The first hit was a review of a 2011 revival of the 2006 Frankfurt production. As you might imagine, I read it anyway.

I know I’m biased but there are some reoccurring lazy comments that bug me nonetheless:

1. Clemenza is a static opera that is very hard to stage

It’s not. There have been several successful productions. Any straight forward opera is easy to stage but will require a modicum of imagination and involvement on the part of the director. That the stage director has none or couldn’t give a fig is a different thing. Loy sounds like a hit-and-miss type of director. Wasn’t he one of those who actually said he couldn’t care about at least one opera he staged, so he just did whatever came to mind, regardless of what the libretto required? Mind you, I have not seen this production, I’m only going with the impressions of a reviewer I seem to disagree with a lot2

And what does static mean, anyway? It’s not action packed? Such as which operas? Wagner’s lot? I wager there’s exactly enough action in this one as it needs. Seduction – check. Burning of Rome – check. All in Act I, the very one the reviewer says:

2. Act I is boring

Anybody who thinks the act that has Deh, perdonna al primo affetto, Parto, Deh, se piacer mi vuoi, Serbate dei custodi, Ah, se fosse intorno al trono, Vengo… Aspettate… Sesto… and the Act I finale is boring must not like this opera. Which is fair enough. But it doesn’t actually mean Act I is boring.

It turns out he was talking about flat conducting, which he thinks happens all the time in the case of Act I. He concluded the music must be tedious. I don’t see how that follows, but hey. Chap goes on to say pretty much every singer beside the soprano who sang Servillia was under par. How come that’s not the answer? I’ve heard it said that Clemenza needs a set of accomplished (and, presumably, well cast) singers to make it exciting. But isn’t that the case with every opera? Is a student performance of Don Giovanni or of Nozze as exciting as one with top notch experienced singers? I suppose stuff like Non mi dir or Porgi, amor sings itself…

I do, however, agree with the reviewer that Vitellia is right for only few and far between sopranos. Off the top of my head I can come up with a few satisfactory Sestos but I more or less blank out on outstanding Vitellias. And still I get a lot of enjoyment out of most performances I’ve heard or seen. I should post about one that left me remarkably lukewarm, just so people don’t think I worship the ground trod on by anybody who as much as utters a musical phrase from Clemenza.

The reviewer recommends concert performances for this opera. Concert performances are all right and more and more people advocate their use in this age of severe cuts to art funds. But I’d rather have a fully staged production, even if it meant a starker – and often times more concept-based – production. I believe it can be done with less than what opera houses think they need to pack.

After rant update

I found a review of the 2006 production; its’ author has a very different opinion of the production itself…

  1. Kurt Streit sang Tito in January 2006 and again in 2011 in Frankfurt. Yves Saelens sang Tito in the same production in November 2006. 
  2. Enough Germans loved it, or were paid for by Oper Frankfurt to love it ;) 

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on June 16, 2014, in 1001 musings on la clemenza di tito, lists, rants & occasional humour, rants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I’ve never understood the “Clemenza is boring” school. Done well, it’s brilliant. It’s a huge shame that Chris Alden’s production hasn’t been recorded. It was done here with a fantastic cast and made for great theatre. As for Vitellias, well Erin Wall is pretty good but maybe the best I’ve seen is a singer you likely haven’t heard of; Ambur Braid. Shes not afraid to take risks and creates memorable characterisations. She even managed to make Adele interesting. She’s just moved to London so you may get a chance to see her.

    • I read your post about Ambur Braid’s farewell show and made a note of her name for future Vitellia reference. Let’s hope ROH revives its last production (or develops a new one) and she gets the chance to sing Vitellia. I trust your taste.

  2. Have you seen this one?

    Not my favorite interpretation but very nice.
    Clemenca is the best opera ever for me.

    • Oh, sweet! I don’t like the Met production but now that it’s online and you’ve alerted me to it I’m not going to give it a miss 😉 Thanks a lot and cheers for stopping by. Clemenza lovers are always welcome here 🙂

  3. Regie, or Not Regie?

    I am not a Loy fan (I liked his Makropolous Case, but his Theodora made me want to scream) but I am with you John on the “Clemenza is boring” points. If that reviewer has never seen an exciting “Clemenza” we need to show him the 2003 Salzburg/Kusej version with (sigh) DR, VK, and other amazing singer/actors. I keep starting a Vitellia post to talk about voices that suit. But I only really have one point to make (so it’ll be a blessedly brief post) and that is I think I’d rather hear a mezzo who has to cheat a bit on the high notes in “Vengo” than a soprano who has to fake all those notes below middle C.

    • It might sound surprising coming from me but generally speaking I’d rather go with a soprano Vitellia. Mezzos, much as I love them, tend to have a matronly timbre which I find completely unsuited for Vitellia. Now, of course, a mezzo that won’t come off too strong (like I think Janet Baker does), who can pull off sweet, sexy and ironic, well, that might change my mind 😉 but I haven’t heard one of those record the role yet. Until then it’s pretty much just DR although I think Opolais also has potential. Wish I recorded that damn live-streaming so I can listen to her Non piu di fiori a few more times and see if it was as good as I thought.

      I was majorly surprised at the number of people who dislike the Salzburg/Kusej Clemenza. There is an army of old schoolers out there who want pretty 18th century costumes and Roman ruins with their Se all’impero and can’t get over the Enlightenment angle of it. That aside from Harnoncourt’s “un-Mozartean” style.

      I have to investigate Loy’s Theodora, I haven’t seen it.

      • Loy’s Theodora is a bit odd but I thought quite effective and Christine Schafer and Bejun Mehta are very good.

        • I just watched a bit on youtube and it doesn’t look terrible. I like the both of them (although is it just me or is Bejun cross-eyed?) so I should investigate some more.

      • Regie, or Not Regie?

        I think he may indeed be cross-eyed. I did think the musical performance in Loy’s Theodora was quite good – solo and choral. I should probably re-watch the performance, as two bloggers I admire (yes, you, John — and the Earworm) seem to get a lot out of it.

      • Regie, or Not Regie?

        Late to the party, I just noticed your question from back in July. I thought Loy took a half-n-half approach somewhere between opera and oratorio, and–on the surface at least–I felt he short-changed the staging aspect. (I have done some reconsidering and rewatching after convincing commentary from fellow bloggers Earworm and Operaramblings. In addition, here are a couple excerpts from my review (I had to go back and read it to figure out what it was that bothered me):

        “I realize that Theodora is not supposed to be happy, but I like to think of her more as a heroine—strong and determined—not wimping around looking sad. She makes virtue look painful and unpleasant. Also, we can get the point that Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Valens is heathen and lecherous without quite so much leering, grabbing, and lip-licking.”

        “Aside from the semi-staged setting, I think it’s the chorus’ stage direction, or lack thereof, that makes me uncomfortable. When they have specific movements or places to go, they do fine. But it looks like there are places where Loy told the choir to just mill around. It looks like milling around with no particular intention, and it’s very distracting.”

        However, “there is no denying these choristers sing like angels.” In fact I thought everyone involved, turned in top-notch musical performances.

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