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…