John A. Rice’s La clemenza di Tito
Whilst on a reading spree on Regie, or Not Regie? I came across a post about this book. You can imagine it took me about an eyeblink to order it (used but in excellent condition, from an independent seller, at about 1/2 the Amazon price). I’m now reading it for the second time and will comment more on it as it settles.
I warmly recommend it to all Clemenza lovers as there is a lot of interesting info on all aspects of the opera. I was especially pleased with his comments on the running themes in the music and the demands on the main roles, as well as the French lit influences on Metastasio’s original libretto. There is also a very interesting survey of the changing attitudes towards the opera in the 200 years (at the time the book was published) of its existence.
I enjoyed just as much the bit about what (the author thinks) works and what doesn’t in regards to directing Clemenza. He was referring to some stagings I knew nothing about (before my time and sadly not immortalised on DVD – although there might be VHSs left in some hidey-holes?). Check out this excerpt retelling Andrew Clark’s1 comments on a 1984 production and see if it rings any bells:
Sesto appeared “virtually unrecognisable in a sexless combination of greased-back hair and dark suit,” according to Andrew Clark, who saw Jean-Claude Auvray’s production of Tito at Basel in 1984. “The updating illuminated nothing but the stage director’s illusions about the work’s malleability.” Auvray’s production presented Tito as a political allegory, which in itself was to take the opera very much in the spirit it was conceived. But Auvray’s attempt to portray Tito as a kind of proto-fascist dictator misrepresented the opera’s political content, according to Clark:
“[…] Auvray’s fundamental mistake was to have overlooked the fact that fascist dictators do not abdicate as in the world dreamed up by the Enlightenment, nor do they grant the kind of ‘clemenza’ illustrated in any of Mozart’s opere serie.”
True, fascist dictators don’t abdicate but neither did Emperor Titus 😉 Like I said, pity there’s no video recording. I have a sneaky feeling I’d get a kick out of it.
There’s another regie production2 that gets some raised eyebrows from reviewers of the time:
[…] they [Hennenberger and Zondergeld], questioned the meaning of some character’s actions, which could not easily be explained even from the point of view of Wernicke’s political program. Why, for example, did Servillia and Annio play badminton during the recitative? And why was Sesto to be seen repeatedly dressing and undressing?
Come on, it’s obvious why anyone would have Sesto repeatedly dress and undress: he’s constantly changing his mind. As for the badminton game, if it’s referring to the recit before Ah, perdona al primo affetto, that recit is a bit of a game (of wills), innit? Apparently the production was of the let’s take the piss out of Clemenza kind, so the inclusion of actual sports is fair game.
Anyway, let me not digress further right now. Get the book if you like Clemenza, it’s worth it.