La clemenza di Tito (St. John’s Waterloo, 21-11-14)
You know you like Tito if you have a thing for the clarinet – to paraphrase a comment I read a while ago on Eyes’ blog. As soon as the overture started I became giddy with excitement. If I could live inside this opera (musically speaking… dramatically, not so much) I would move in tomorrow. For now it really helped that I strategically placed myself smack dab in front of the rhythm section (the focus on the orchestra continues). You know you want to be on the same side with the clarinet/basset horn, the oboes, bassoons, flutes and the things that go vrooom in the overture 😉 That of course means your singers and choir might be a bit overshadowed but once in a while I can live with that.
Tito: John Upperton
Vitellia: Nicola Ihnatowicz
Sesto: Norma Ritchie
Annio: Lucy Goddard
Servilia: Emma Dogliani
Publio: Andy Armistead
Conductor: David Roblou | Chamber Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of Midsummer Opera
Sometimes you really hit it off with your seatmate. It was one of those times. She even liked the current ROH Idomeneo! The reason why I brought this up is because I shared with her that this was my favourite opera. She seemed surprised and asked how come. Good question. I’m not quite sure how come. It sort of snuck up on me. I guess I didn’t know any better at the time, having come across it in the very early days of opera passion. Now it’s part of me.
I think we need a moratorium on doormat Sesti. Please, opera companies, give them a (lengthy) break. Must he be played like such a dweeb (complete with nerdy glasses)? I had a host of cruel jokes handy but during Sesto’s anguished recit at the end of Act I Ritchie came within 2 yards of me and I suddenly felt really bad. She tried her best. So I’ll henceforth leave the Sesto issue aside. I’ll just say that Parto was the most fearful I’ve heard, starting with the orchestral intro done in a clipped manner. What did Vitellia do to him, run him through Guantanamo? In response, the clarinet kept it glib. There was an interesting thing they did during the coloratura at the end, where both Sesto and the Mr. Clarinet stopped dead a few times. I suppose it was to highlight Sesto’s indecision (although maybe not the best moment).
Vitellia chewed plenty of scenery. I thought she deserved applause for Deh, se piacer mi vuoi but I appeared to be in minority. In fact the audience was way more critical (or just restrained) than me. I was initially a bit apprehensive after reading how Tito needs only the best of the best to work live etc. and obviously I’ve been used to listening to the best of the best Tito recordings. But to my surprise, my enthusiasm didn’t waver even watching a local company do it. Maybe that assertion is bollocks. Maybe I’m obsessed beyond belief 😉 Maybe Midsummer Opera did such a good job.
But back to Vitellia. I wish she waved her arms a bit less but I definitely appreciated her efficiency when she picked up Sesto’s suitcase and deposited it in his arms just before Se al volto. Haha! Good point. Ihnatowicz was a very lively Vitellia and definitely not a cold Vitellia. Her voice projected well and she did a lot of things with Non piu di fiori, complete with correctly placed low G, even though not the strongest I’ve heard. Mr. Basset horn was even more glib here than during Parto. It was like ehehehe,
bitch Vitellia, who’s laughing now? Like I said in the beginning, you’ve got to love the clarinet and the basset horn, both excellent.
Her high notes during Deh, se piacer mi vuoi and Vengo… aspetatte… were also good. This was a semi-staged performance so I guess I can’t be too tough on the acting. But I wish everybody interacted more, physically speaking. Still, she managed to convey the wicked sexiness of Deh, se piacer.
Dogliani really surprised me with her very solid S’altro che lagrime. In Ah, perdona al primo affetto she came off as a lower than usual voiced Servilia but she pulled off the money notes on S’altro‘s non giovera. Good job!
I really enjoyed Goddard’s Annio. Any mezzo who can pull off Tu fosti tradito without sounding like someone’s stepping on her corns wins. Although I don’t know that Goddard is a mezzo. Doesn’t matter, any singer who can navigate Annio’s second aria without getting shrill is fine by me. Torna di Tito a lato was also good, as was the duet with Servilia. Pity the audience was scarce with their applause. Returning to the acting side, Goddard moved in the girliest manner. During Vengo… aspetatte…, Annio and Publio were standing to the side, chuckling at Vitellia’s turning into a basket case at the happiest news. Annio’s girlishness came out really glaring next to Publio manly pose.
For his part, Publio reminded me of a relaxed bouncer. Hey Tito, relax, mate. Whatever it is, I’ll fix it in no time, he seemed to be saying. Pretty nice low tone, he did especially well during the Act I finale and the Act II trios. Tardi s’avvede was infused with the same relaxed attitude and maybe a bit of bafflement at Tito’s naivety.
Upperton’s Tito was very solid and had a very nice, manly tone. I wouldn’t mind seeing him again in this role. His acting was also clear and coherent, though of the very upright, benevolent despot kind. No hint of self doubt in his goodness and the righteousness of his decisions. He did show some vacillation in regards to punishing Sesto (good vocal acting) but not to the point of neurosis. Why this together chap could find no better friend than doormat Sesto was hard to understand. But I finally got why most Titi take off their jacket during their 1:1 with Sesto: they are leaving “Caesar” behind and bringing just the friend along. Excuse me for not getting this before…
I really liked his timing for starting the little cavatina in Ah, si grazie se rendano and the simple and direct way he eased into Del piu sublime soglio. The audience was again restrained with the applause, so I was pretty much alone clapping at the end of Ah, se fosse intorno al trono. What can I say? I love the aria and if it’s just me and some other straggler loving it, so be it (cheers, straggler at the back! You’ve good taste 🙂 ). He did at least get lots of applause after Se all’impero, which he negotiated fearlessly. Excellent job. As an aside, if you ever wondered what covers do when they are not needed, they’re probably signed up for another gig. Upperton was covering at the ENO tonight but luckily the titular there was in good health.
The choir wasn’t bad, a bit soprano-heavy but muscular and involved. Serbate dei custodi was grand and so was Eterni dei but they did an especially nice job during the Act I finale, when they were placed at the back of the venue. Maybe they sounded more powerful then because they were not overpowered by the orchestra in my ears. It was a very good idea, with the choir at the back and the singers at the front – the whole thing came off “stereo” and very powerful. Also any motley dressed choir gets bonus points from me.
Maestro did a good, brisk job and kept the orchestra tight. The overture was excellent and so were the finales. Thank you, Maestro for not having the orchestra sound too loud, god knows my ears might’ve fallen off. Yesterday I was complaining about interpolations (or maybe they really are ornaments). Well, Maestro likes them too. Each singer got one or two, in the meatier place of their arias. Still not my thing but the singers pulled them off. I am all for ornamentation if it adds to the mood or to the character but not just for the sake of it. As a second aside, the orchestra used the March to get the audience’s attention at the end of the intermission. So we got to hear it three times!
Interestingly, my seatmate told me she’d seen Tito before at ENO and found it boring – but not this time. I don’t know about ENO (although Tito in English would be the true test of my love 😉 ), but I found this very entertaining. Sitting by the orchestra was priceless. I know the music rather well by now but it’s way different seeing and not just hearing who does what. You catch all these details, things you didn’t hear before – hearing with your eyes. I wish I could point them all out but it’s all a bit of a jumble in my head right now. I can remember two: the upright bass tremolos during Sesto’s part in Quello di Tito e il volto (in fact, the various characterisations via sound during trios were particularly fun to catch), the horn during the last part of Deh, per questo instante solo (does it mean he’s lying or does horn = cheating apply only to Baroque? Isn’t there some of that in Le nozze?). You know I can just go on and on about Tito, so let me stop before this turns into a (bigger) monster.
Speaking of which, if anyone’s interested, Midsummer Opera is running it again this Sunday at 4:30pm. You can buy tickets on the door.