“What is Deh, se piacer mi vuoi really about?”
Answer: Practical Vitellia’s imparting a piece of wisdom via seduction.
You guessed it, another search engine term and what a fun one! I know I hit on the subject before but I wasn’t actually discussing Mozart’s version. Unforgivable.
Context: Annio had barged in with the news of Tito’s sending Berenice packing just after Vitellia managed to convince Sesto to start the rebellion during which Tito is supposed to be offed. Vitellia, always the quick thinker, tells Sesto to stall the plan yet again. Exasperated, Sesto accuses her of playing with his mind. Vitellia launches into this sexy aria in order to appease him. Let’s take a look at the lyrics:
What would really make me happy is you not being so wishy-washy. Don’t bore me with your ifs and buts. Blind belief brings faith whilst cautiousness invites deceit (which can be taken in a few ways: think positive, nobody’s ever accomplished anything by worrying all the time. Or: don’t look so shifty, you’ll give away our secret. Or: I’m honest with those who trust me and lie to those who don’t). Briefly put: grow a pair and do as I say. Above all, quit yer bitching, it’s a total turn off.
That’s the text. But it’s the music that brings on the seductive subtext. Mozart made Vitellia linger a lot on alletta (“tempts”), which gives the singer a lot of opportunity to insinuate to Sesto just what he could get if he manned up already. But it’s not just that. Mozart also had fun with Vitellia sounding exasperated by/contemptuous at Sesto’s stalling (the ornaments on molesto dubitar (“annoying doubting”) are the vocal expression of a giant eye-roll) or with her gentler moments (the first two lines) where you can just tell she’s thinking “ok, he freaked out, let me go soft on him for a moment”.