La Clémence de Titus (Théâtre des Champs Elysées, 18-12-14)
If I should stay
I would only be in your way
So I’ll go but I know
I’ll think of you every step of the way
I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of
And I wish you joy and happiness
But above all this I wish you love
It is along the wise words of Dolly Parton that Berenice starts off the proceedings at a high end hotel, where she and Tito are parting ways (in a production set in 1940s). Except it’s a bit different and in French and she’s a Jewish princess of Hellenistic origin in an Italian opera written by an Austrian. Some stories never change.
Berenice aside, the keyword is feverish – from the upwards strings in the overture to Servilia in her pre-Ah perdona recit with Annio and especially Vitellia, Sesto and Mr. Pianoforte (dude, put a lid on it, will ya? I’ve never heard such a bloody loud and busybusybusy accompaniment).
Titus: Kurt Streit
Vitellia: Karina Gauvin
Sextus: Kate Lindsey
Annius: Julie Boulianne
Servilia: Julie Fuchs
Publius: Robert Gleadow
Berenice: Leslie Menu
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer | Le Cercle de L’Harmonie et Chor Aedes
This production’s Vitellia pulls proper Adriana Lecouvreur-style dramatics, in full display in the pre-Parto recit, where she faux-faints in the arms of her ubiquitous retinue (nurse and fan-boy). The director did say he sees her as a washed-up movie star and Karina Gauvin goes to town with it – for better or worse. Should Vitellia provoke laughter? KG plays it knowingly and Vitellia is so obsessed with her dwindling career that she overacts in her own life: classic self-involved diva.
Another very young Sesto. But with effete Kate Lindsey I knew that’s what we’d get. This was the main reason why I decided not to put up with the trouble of being there. I saw KL twice in Ariadne auf Naxos; although she sang beautifully and a dangerously close to the edge Composer makes perfect sense, I could tell there was only so much of that one-note feverish obsession I could take.
Here Sesto is a high school kid, Vitellia a fading grande artiste; the concoction results in a sort of Marschallin/Octavian relationship gone horribly wrong.
Kurt Streit pretty much reprises his La Monnaie Tito from last year. I think he sounds better here. Generally speaking I like his tone, although he sometimes gets thin and slightly bleaty. His diction is fabulous. But he was the other reason I wasn’t so keen on being in the house for this production. I like his straight up Tito all right but I’d like something more interesting.
Conductor Jérémie Rhorer roars through it. The pace was so fast there were many moments when I thought the drama lacked sorely because of it. Again, feverish. The strings were often strident but it made sense with this high pitched take on the drama. The less said about the pianoforte accompaniment the better. It was mindboggingly intrusive for my money.
However, there was something truly wonderful: the winds – all of them and consistently throughout the performance – with the clarinet and the basset horn at the forefront. It was such a pleasure listening to them I’d
watch listen to it again just for that.
Overture: Rhorer starts off in grand (loud) manner. The strings set out a neurotic tone and the pace is fast. As Berenice leaves, other people mill around Tito, who looks unsettled and cries. Publio and Sesto seem to want to intervene but think better of it.
A hotel setting is as good as any for Tito. People come in and out, interpersonal connections are fleeting, everybody has their own agenda.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso: Vitellia rushes in with her retinue and starts yapping at troubled schoolboy Sesto, who snaps back. Mr. Pianoforte makes a racket that threatens to overtake their very muscular argument.
Come ti piace imponi: I like KL’s tone, it’s slickly dark and aristocratic, fitting Sesto(‘s handsome coat). Most Sesti are troubled. They are, after all, trying to have their cake and eat it too. I have learned from her basket case Composer and terribly alarmed Met Annio that KL is well suited for bringing out the obsessive side of a character. Maybe too well suited. Somebody needs to tell her to take it easy, her big eyes, slight frame and nervous movement go a long way towards conveying the internal fragility of such characters.
KL and KG blend well but Maestro’s pace is too quick for much dramatic exploration. KG speaks the low notes.
Annio brings them the news: he’s upset but dignified. Vitellia, like a good old grand diva, lets out a startling
evil vulgar/mocking laugh in response to Berenice’s elegance at taking her leave unasked. We get it, she can’t hold a candle to proper noblesse.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: KG sings this sat in a chair. I’d have liked a more glamorous pose for this aria, however KG does go for seductiveness rather successfully. Sesto, strangely, looks nonplussed, even stumped. I think it was Vitellia’s fanboy who laid on heavy foreshadowing by setting fire to a piece of paper (so that Sesto could see it) whilst all this was going on. Vitellia is employing all she can think of to put sedition into impressionable Sesto’s mind. As a result this Sesto is more overwhelmed than turned on by his cougar Vitellia.
Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: Sesto’s youth comes off strikingly during his playful “banter” with Annio. They playfight using their coats whilst singing their ode to eternal friendship. I couldn’t tell them apart but they were right cute etc.
March/Serbate, dei custodi: Maestro sets a good pace. It’s very precisely played. Serbate is soprano heavy but not unpleasant. A bunch of busybodies, possibly hotel staff, arrange chairs for an audience with Tito, random (?) people hand paperwork to Publio.
Having listened to the director’s comments regarding the 1940s setting I admit I didn’t quite get the specific reason so I’ll take it at face value: Tito is ready to see some people (the choir), who are brought in by Publio and Annio. Sesto is there as well (understandably distracted), but Annio seems a lot better at schmoozing. We can imagine that Tito needed a moment after the tearful separation. He still keeps it together in a noble manner and is very polite when he tells everybody the audience is over.
Finally he’s left alone (sort of, people keep looking in) with the boys and Sesto reluctantly asks him about the news. The pianoforte once again feels the need to heavily underline Tito’s anguish. He does indeed get OTT when he has to mention Berenice. He looks like he doesn’t care about Servilia and her amazing qualities as recited by the eager Annio.
Del piu sublime soglio: nice segue in and lovely soft emphasis from KS on avrei though KS it’s here that he gets a bit bleaty. His diction is excellent. The strings manage not to sound too neurotic here. Once again he gets a tiny Sesto who – it turns out – likes being praised. You don’t often get one of these. He even smiles and is certainly not looking guilty – at best somewhat thoughtful.
Ah perdona il primo affetto: Annio is really upset. His bird is radiant though she gets mighty alarmed when he starts acting all formal. This is a very comme il faut ‘perdona, no kiss for the lovebirds. They do mix well and Julie Boulianne’s Annio sounds rather fine.
Tito, Publio, aides and Servilia: all shout too much, the pace is too quick. Servilia tries to infuse some drama in her little speech but it gets lost in the noise.
Ah se fosse intorno al trono: the strings are a bit strange (dry?) at the beginning. KS sounds better than I remember him from last year but he gets a bit thin on impEro.
Vitellia storms in and is so irate her retinue needs to physically restrain her. Servilia vamooses as soon as she can.
pre-Parto recit: the “Melpomene in full cry” moment. I have a feeling KG really got a kick out of chewing the hotel scenery. She pulled all the tricks in the bag: (fake) crying, arm waving, snappy threats, (fake) fainting, maybe even a bit of seduction. Sesto ended up properly kookoo after Vitellia’s nurse held out the dagger in the most dramatic fashion (obviously Vitellia always has her adoring fans do her bidding). He took the dagger and held it against Vitellia’s throat, apparently only to show her just what he was going to do to Tito. Luckily he caught himself at the last moment. Bad romance all right.
Parto: the clarinet = buttah, especially as the aria progressed, highly fetching trills on the cadenza. Vintage KL obsession: a bit of making out with the knife here, some kittening up to Vitellia there. There is no doubt that KL can sing this, though Tara Erraught’s flexibility is better (beyond that comparing their Sesti is mad, they are so different; I’m only doing it because they’re the new generation singing this). The guardamis were rather appealing. I’d say the closest relative to KL’s Sesto is Lani Poulson’s from the Drottningholm production = a very young and thoroughly manipulated Sesto.
Vengo! Aspetatte… Sesto!: Maestro mercilessly fast again. I’m not the biggest fan of quick = anguished. KG’s high D was barely audible.
Act I finale
Very Romantic take, giving KL lots of fodder to emote, drama all around but lacking nuance. Gleadow’s Publio could’ve done with a more powerful voice here. Vitellia was ok, rather remorseful. She got interesting in her precious few moments with Sesto, when she learned that he had indeed gone through with the plan. KG looked properly horrified and human. When Sesto wanted to spill the beans on the identity of the murderer he looked like he meant to say it was Vitellia. Sure enough, he went on to smear her face with blood in a half tender gesture = bonkers. This was the first time Vitellia seemed to acknowledge him. Nice touch that. It’s probably understandable that such an unbalanced relationship as this one would only be re-calibrated by some extreme gesture. Dramatic pacing from Maestro on giorno di dolor (long giorno).
The hotel fire was put out. Annio tries to convince Sesto that Tito is alive and kicking. Sesto gives himself away but insists (stronger than other Sesti) that it was only a momentary lapse of reason.
Torna di Tito a lato: Boulianne’s voice is lovely, maybe just a bit mundane.
Partir deggio…?: Sesto barely had time to wonder whether he’s coming or going when Vitellia, in highly seductive mode, came in to convince him to go. She then managed to whoosh off before Publio and his men showed up to duly handcuff Sesto. For his part, the boy sounded properly pissed off on ingrata, addio!
Se al volto mai ti senti: you know this trio has some lovely wind accompaniment and whatever this orchestra’s wind section does just works for me. Sesto continued to be pissed off, Vitellia remoseful and Publio just ok (can’t do all that much just with vieni!). Vocally the whole thing was beautiful even though not dramatic as in other cases. Both Sesto and Vitellia ended up miserable and their last che crudeltas were lovely.
Ah grazie se rendano: Tito appeared looking confused. The choir approached him rather menacingly and he seemed a bit scared for a moment. But the chorus started off very softly, maybe even tentatively. Weaving through the chorus was Berenice, who, like a dream, kept eluding Tito. Once again the winds were buttah.
Publio wants to make Tito see reality: KS’s Tito is anachronistic. Most of us would have a hard time imagining a politician of that sort. But we can relate to Tito as a good-natured human being.
Tardi s’avvede: although the orchestra was surprisingly loud, RG was not. In fact he went soft on mancar (non sa) and pieno (d’onore). Things got even more nuanced as the aria continued, and RG alternated a strong infedelta with a soft one, almost sadly. Later on tradimento was plaintive and tardi strong. Good ideas and he got applause for his effort.
The annoying pianoforte returned specifically to underline Tito’s disappointment when Annio confirmed the bad news. Come on, we know he’s hurt to the core to hear his best friend tried to kill him.
Tu fosti tradito: JB’s is one of the most earnest Annios I’ve seen. She coped surprisingly well considering this production’s general tendency towards hysterics. The orchestra behaved well, appropriately anguished and tense.
Tito’s anguished recit: I’d have liked it better if KS didn’t feel the need to go loud on this (possibly to compensate for not having a particularly imposing voice). Then again, I guess it’s that kind of production. I felt a lack of nuance in his acting and I think that was present last year as well. Lo scelerato mora came off nicely soft, though and I generally liked his Italian pronunciation.
Quello di Tito e il volto: Maestro gave us a “moment of truth” intro. When face to face with Tito Sesto looked rather courageous. Beautiful singing from KL. Also the orchestra was lovely on Sesto’s bit, now trembling, now anguished. Otherwise I thought the tempo was too quick to crazed.
Tito/Sesto face-off: very straight-forward. Sesto still handcuffed, Tito holding the key and unlocking him whilst saying they could find a way out together. Sesto continued to be properly tortured (complete with writhing on the floor), Tito frustrated with his non-excuses.
I don’t know what kind of relationship they were supposed to have. It seemed the director didn’t want to be specific. I think he was mostly interested in Vitellia, gave her a pretty boytoy and then just went along with the usual Tito and them. As KS had sung Tito before he could draw on that so for his part he acted with this Sesto much the same he did with Boni’s last year. I don’t know if/when KL sang Sesto before but I can’t say I felt any strong idea as to who Sesto is to Tito.
Deh, per questo instante solo: like I sad before, KL can sing and she can definitely convey anguish. Trouble is I’m not convinced she can convey anything else. This is a long aria and it greatly benefits from a touch of imagination. Or a lot. KL does it straight up + barking mad. I know she’s only 33 years old but it’s high time she dug in beyond beauty of sound. It’s a shame leaving that beautiful voice to do all the work.
After Sesto is taken away Tito does a bit more fuming but KS is rather convincing when he tears the death warrant.
Se all’impero: as usual, KS copes valiantly with the mad coloratura on un altro cor. Strangely his vowels suffer a bit here, possibly something to do with how difficult the aria is. If anybody knows if the difficulty of producing sound has an effect on how the vowels appear, please tell me. He shows off a bit (to iffy results) on the first necessario but I liked his Italianate emphasis on the last un altro cor.
Publio and Vitellia: at this point Vitellia is normally scared about the horrors she had set in motion and wants to find out their magnitude. This one seems at the end of her tether. Alas, she is left with more questions than before.
Annio and Servilia come and corner her (almost comically chasing her around columns) in order to make her realise she has the power to save Sesto. She almost faints, this time for real.
S’altro che lagrime: Servilia is one of “them” as in “Tito and them”, by which I mean she’s not well defined. I can’t tell who she is out of this group of people who all find themselves at this hotel. What should I think of her chastising Vitellia, that star of yore? What I can hear is that her (non) giovera comes off rather forced where it should float. She gives Vitellia a fierce look at the end, though.
Ecco il punto… Non piu di fiori: Vitellia started to soften starting with the Act I finale and she continued to do so during Se al volto, the last time we’ve seen/heard her. By now she’s properly human, none of those winky hystrionics. The addio at the end of Ecco il punto is soft, not bad at all. But the star of Non piu di fiori is the basset horn. The tone! The arpeggios! – really good job on illustrating her abject fear of death (and this Vitellia gets to abject lows all right).
Act II finale
The chairs that hint at Tito’s impending presence return. The chorus isn’t overly grand. Tito looks very upset but keeps it together. Sesto simply walks in, not looking the worse for wear, but seems to accept what he thinks is his fate. I guess he’s all growed up. Tito starts off, Vitellia barges in, looking scared and not very much like a star anymore, rather like every woman. As she starts talking Sesto’s expression doesn’t change. Maybe he realised his infatuation with her was youthful folly. Tito doesn’t seem very sure of his decision but upholds it nonetheless. Eterni dei is speedy, Tito goes softly on troncate, which I liked but I thought was undermined by the tempo. Berenice looks on (is she real? is it “what Berenice would have liked”?).
Err… nice try, I guess. Maybe I need to hear the director’s comments again because it’s not very clear to me what he was aiming for. I kinda liked the ’40s hotel/film noir atmosphere and in that sense the Sesto/Vitellia relationship had potential but I didn’t feel it was properly cooked. Berenice I could either take or leave. I don’t know that we need to be shown that she is a special woman to believe that Tito was very much in love with her. I’d’ve liked a lot more clarity as to who Sesto was supposed to be. Annio seemed like a kid who got a job as an aide to Publio. Were they supposed to be interns? Then why was Vitellia there? Did she just happen to room at the same hotel as “the president”? Or did she tag along with Sesto in hopes of reaching the president?
Anyway, thank you, TdCE/ARTE for livestreaming it so I didn’t have to always wonder what I decided against; I’m glad more venues are getting into this habit. There were no interviews during the intermission, just a few shots of the (young and pretty members of the) audience and the venue. I did like that as I’m always curious to see who’s going to see what.