HIPster Tito (Hogwood/AAM, 1995)
Emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus was born 1976 years ago today. What better subject for today’s post than this beautifully detailed, elegant, luminous version of Tito, which reminds you above all that it’s Mozart. For those used to live versions this can sound too polished but for a studio recording there is just enough drama.
Tito: Uwe Heilmann
Sesto: Cecilia Bartoli
Vitellia: Della Jones
Servilia: Barbara Bonney
Annio: Diana Montague
Publio: Gilles Cachemaille
Conductor: Christopher Hogwood | The Academy of Ancient Music
Overture: the tempi are measured but not rigid and the touches light, Hogwood’s reading clear and unfussy. I don’t think he’s trying to make any emphatic statement. It’s more like saying this is Tito, listen if you want to – I rather like it.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!: Jones’ spoken voice isn’t the prettiest. On the other hand, Vitellia comes off as very sure of herself and determined; more willful than wrathful. Sesto is friendly and placating. In short, one of those cases where our couple argues in a civilised manner over morning’s coffee (uncut recit, you get enough time to imagine them walking about in the kitchen and the ladies keep up the mild tension).
Come ti piace, imponi: seamless segue into Sesto’s reconciliatory comments. Vitellia accepts his apology and lays out her demands in grand fashion. Bartoli’s way of singing gia il tuo furror m’accende makes Sesto sound surprised at himself – I like this unusual take. Hogwood brings out every detail in the music (like the gorgeous downward line in the low strings) and the two mezzos blend beautifully showcasing Vitellia’s touch of shrill.
Annio’s news: a typically alarmed Annio comes into the kitchen. Vitellia mocks him but he plows on and surprises both her and Sesto. Ha, says Vitellia to herself, he’s better than I thought. Let’s not off him, not just now. Sesto gets annoyed. Vitellia is worried Annio might understand what they had been talking about. Sesto bites his tongue and moans to himself. It’s clearly and logically acted by both.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: starts off smoothly, as if this is a play with music. Jones’ voice isn’t the sexiest in itself yet she manages the music well to convey putting the moves on Sesto (nicely caressed tuoi in lascia i sospetti tuoi; her questo from questo molesto dubitar gets almost alluring; the allettas are suitably eyelash-batting). The redition is rather compelling, not least thanks to her handsome low notes and many cleverly done details along the way, virtuosity etc. Certainly Jones and Hogwood understood each other.
Annio asks for Servilia’s hand: Annio sounds like the junior partner but his Sesto is so friendly it almost doesn’t matter.
Deh predi un dolce amplesso: Sesto waltzes with himself as it’s rather hard to make Annio out in the duet.
March/Serbate dei custodi: the march sounds more like courtly music than martial but then this version is very sophisticated. Serbate gets things focused, with the small AAM choir together and matter of fact.
Publio and Annio waffle on about Tito’s goodness: Publio sounds a bit like a buffo or a super congenial Prefect of the Imperial Guard, Annio goes on in his junior partner manner. Tito soars above all ready to take off through the roof of the Campidoglio. He’s the super noble kind.
March reprise: more Imperial sounding this time. Nice emphatic trumpet details.
Berenice has left Tito mopey: Tito is determined to move on. He gets really soft when he says he will marry Sesto’s sister. Sesto’s Servilia?! is asked with very contained surprise, I liked it. Annio is girly in his aside but then picks himself up and gets almost heroic. Tito gets more and more like his buddies, not authoritarian at all; soft again when he asks himself what is left for him to do if he can’t reward his friends.
Del piu sublime soglio: Heilmann probably made a classic Don Ottavio in his day1. Here he gives us the kind of plaintive – heart on his sleeve – Tito. He’s not Italianate at all but this being Mozart it works just as well.
Annio bemoans his fate: but not overly so. Servilia is pure of voice and girlish in a fresh way.
Ah perdona al primo affetto: Annio sounds a bit bemused (hoping for elegantly manly, I guess) and Servilia careful in their respective solos but together they sound sweet. I’d have hoped for a bit more abandon.
Tito : Publio : Servilia: Publio reminds Tito of offences against Imperial authority. Tito gets all philosophical which boils down to him abhoring crack downs on personal freedom. Publio: oh, well, you’re the boss. Servilia shows up and Tito seems so surprised by the visit he immediately sends Publio away. Sometimes Titi use this intrusion as an excuse to get rid of Publio but this one seems to genuinely want to spend time with Servilia even in the middle of Imperial business. Bonney rather rushes through the recit; at times she sounds very alluring, other times nondescript.
Ah se fosse intorno al trono: secure, gentle start from the bassoon. The oboe carries the filigree texture in a nice manner. Tito is at his most Don Ottavio-esque yet, with a very fine line and good sprinkles of manly contrasts to the very soft essence.
Servilia : Vitellia: this Vitellia is so good at covering her contempt she can almost fool you. It’s just here and there that her anger shows. Servilia doesn’t believe her. I also don’t quite believe Bonney. Ancora mi schernisce… is delivered slower and calmer than usual, suggesting that Vitellia can’t quite believe Servilia’s guts. Her anger builds up but not quite as much as I’d like.
pre-Parto recit: her fury starts to show once hapless Sesto returns. Their argument has the same low intesity of their earlier one. I feel maestro is mistaken to have kept the recit intact. Vitellia’s moan might benefit from brevity if seething fury is to be delivered.
In any case, Sesto seems to have misjudged her boiling point so he keeps trying to argue his position in a pretty calm manner. She gets royal on him with just a hint of sexiness and he replies this is enough to convince him. Oh, really? He, of course, catches himself soon enough but the argument ends up rather meandering instead of urgent. Enough with kitchen table passive-aggressiveness, it’s time for blood. Taken in itself, Vitellia’s arc of rising fury is good but the whole thing is way too long.
Parto: the intro is delivered as a sentence – early music style. Sesto starts softly. It’s a very unhistrionic rendition from Bartoli. I’m a fan of hers when she tones it down as she does here. Her Sesto retains enough heroism to never sound limp yet is gentle and congenial (a very loving first saro qual piu ti piace matched by quel que vorrai faro and un-whingy pleading guardamis). The coloratura isn’t aggressively tackled either, there’s just enough oomph coupled with the legendary ease of her heyday. A surprisingly attractive version.
Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: Vitellia lets out a hysterical laugh. Jones isn’t mean enough, it’s almost a cheerful laugh, a bit like thumbing her nose at Tito. Publio is reverential, Annio a bit whingy.
Vengo! Aspetatte… Sesto!: Jones’ mezzo comes in handy for fullness. The top notes are done in a very clever – soft, barely touched – way to suggest her almost passing out and help the singer at the same time. Short, brisk and effective, showcasing Jones’ never shrill tone. Now this is a bit where shrillness is welcome but I think in the lighter, HIP context of AAM this works out well.
Act I finale
No time is lost, the music slips immediately into the finale, which would work a bit less live but here it uses the build-up of tension. I like Hogwood tempi, they feel optimal and the line is always clear. Bartoli continues as a very likeable Sesto, serious but not overly earnest. His confusion and horror sound genuine yet are elegantly done and match AAM’s light touch. The music flows exquisitely into Annio’s intervention then is as seamlessly picked up by Servilia’s entrance etc. The way Jones’ Vitellia asks Tito? is the most conversational and to the point I’ve ever heard. In a word: stylish. Hogwood leaves the drama to Mozart, the brass and the timpani do their job.
Annio : Sesto: Annio is mega alarmed omg, omg, omg, Sesto!!! Sesto is pretty together. Upon hearing the truth, Annio sounds like he’s not sure what to believe. Sesto plays the honourable card.
Torna di Tito a lato: Montague sang Sesto at Glyndebourne (1991) but – judging from youtube videos – she’s more suited for this kind of character. It’s plaintive enough to make a rock shed tears.
Partir deggio…?: it doesn’t take much to make Sesto unsure of himself. Whilst he’s trying to make his mind up whether to stay or to go, Vitellia rushes in all hush-hush, just about shoving him in the direction of the nearest exit. Oh, no, Vitellia! I might appear wishy-washy to you, but I do not grass on those dear to me! says Sesto. Oh, speaking of those dear to you – I know how you feel about Tito. If he as much as turns those doe eyes on you… Maestro leaves a few moments before signalling to Publio to make his accusation. In those few moments Sesto says nothing.
Buffo Publio enunciates with gusto: Haha, I got you! Gimme that dagger of yours. Sesto hasn’t melted yet and pretends he doesn’t know what Publio’s talking about. Guess who was the one dressed in Tito’s Imperial outfit? Lentulo! You eviscerated him but we have a good First Aid team on retainer so he survived. Now we know everything, so, please, cut the crap. O.M.G.! says Vitellia very slowly. Happy now? asks Sesto dejected.
Se al volto mai ti senti: La Bartoli does a very sensitive job with the ethereal beginning. Jones’ Vitellia reminds me of Gauvin’s, in the very strong an mature way she sings here. They are all well defined, with Sesto soft, plaintive and largo, Vitellia super alarmed = hysterically allegro and Publio bouncer-like. It’s more angsty and alert than usual.
Ah grazie si rendano: back to Tito’s quarters. Gentle beginning, measured tempo for gathering our wits. The choir is just hesitant enough throughout, on the brink of being behind the orchestra. Pretty good entrance with trill by Tito. Heilmann sounds perhaps a bit too bright here but the plaintiveness works.
Publio : Tito: Publio presents the situation. Come on, Tito, sign the death warrant and we can all move on. Tito has other ideas: What if everybody is wrong about Sesto?
Tardi s’avvede: Cachemaille likes enunciating and going very gentle on the important words (tardi, fedelta etc.). Ir’s almost a serenade to Tito.
Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is immune to sung pleas by anyone other than Sesto. Come on, Annio, tell me everybody else is wrong? Annio: Err, erm, well… Publio: Told you so! Heilmann’s partite! is troubled rather than angry.
Tu fosti tradito: Montague isn’t bad at all as a very classic, unimaginative Annio. Good voice for a worried, surly type without much personality and really high and bright for a mezzo = no screechiness. Nice backing from the orchestra.
Tito’s monologue + a bit of Publio: the strings jump at it, Heilmann meets them halfway through, Tito is properly angsty now but he can still pull the ppp in …mora?! Very good vocal acting, superior emotional range, keeps your attention. Publio has brought Sesto. Tito vows (to Publio?) to speak to him as his Emperor, not as his friend.
Quello di Tito e il volto: interesting start from La Bartoli, hesitant but not defeated (the phrasing on il volto suggests there’s still life in him). Her vocal acting has not always been up my alley but her singing has been consistently strong here. I can tell she has a clear idea of Sesto and it’s not stereotypical. Also, she can sing; her lower notes come off surprisingly beautiful. Cachemaille makes me think his lines are delivered by the omniscient narrator (aka, Metastasio). His Publio sounds very casual, where Sesto is unsure and Tito hurt. Heilmann goes unusually soft on non odi? whilst other Titi tend to get ferocious. His delivery suggests hurt at being ignored by Sesto in the grand scheme of things. The bits where the three of them sing together have the three voices twist around each other hansomely. The effect showcases Mozart’s chops are building a trio.
Tito : Sesto: Sesto is very remorseful but, again, La Bartoli ennobles him with dignity in non piu, non piu, si tu poter vedesti in questo misero cor… then Sesto gets really eloquent for the very iffy moment he’s in. Nope, he says, I didn’t do this because of powerlust. La debolezza mia is said in an uncertain manner, as if Sesto hasn’t quite faced up to his reasons before. Also, perhaps he doesn’t want Tito to guess just what kind of weakness he’s prone to (a best friend would know). This gives Tito reason to rekindle his appreciation for his buddy: I’m your friend, not your Emperor! Tell me what’s bothering you. We’ll fix it, whatever it is. It’s a very touching moment and Tito comes off as a good friend – whether sincere or selfstyled. Sesto hees and haws some more and finally takes full blame. Tito loses his patience and wants to be mean though he can’t quite. Sesto knows how to get to him. This is an uncomplicated take so he simply doesn’t want to go to his death without a last goodbye.
Deh per questo instante solo: Sesto starts softly but not overly so. Even at this point he’s got a bit of strength. La Bartoli continues the noble and strong but flawed line of characterisation with utmost confidence. She’s supported by the orchestra both in sound and in dramatic intention. She (and Maestro) never stray into ugliness though neither do they go for abject sentimentality. Briefly put, a very classical take, measured and elegant. When I started listening I had no idea I would like Bartoli’s Sesto this much. Now I think it’s one of the best out there.
Tito : Publio: Tito won’t see between the lines. He’s focused on the idea of betrayal and forgiveness. Heilmann isn’t bad at all at this philosophical musing thing. His Tito sounds like a sincerely all right chap at heart. He keeps his poker face, though he speaks gently. Publio’s o, sventurato! returns to the buffo area at an odd time.
Se all’impero: starts very chipper, with the strings flying of as if to say whew! A weight lifted off my shoulders. Heilmann summons his every Italianate idea into this. Please, gods, understand! I can’t, I simply can’t send someone to death. I’m a gentle chap. Very nice ppp trill on [s’affrutta] del [timor], and all this in contrast with the energetic orchestra. Heilmann and Maestro make very clever use of his Mozart tenorino voice.
Vitellia : Publio: immediately we’re on the other side of the door, where Publio and Vitellia are trying not to look like they’re listening. Publio seems grandly appreciative of Tito’s decisiveness, Vitellia all over the shop with confusing feelings about her own fate and Sesto’s. Dunque… mora??? is very convincing. The more she tries to pry stuff out of him, the more Publio pretends to know but not tell. It seems to work and Vitellia imagines the worst. She keeps wondering what’s the best course of action when the kids ambush her.
Annio : Servilia : Vitellia: though keeping it together in Tu fosti tradito, Montague gets OTT with the do something for him! feeling here. Vitellia is momentarily won over by Sesto’s loyalty and is ready to run to Tito. Then self preservation kicks in. Maybe later. Annio cries, Servilia tries the last card: Sesto’s thinking about you even now, she says to a fast melting Vitellia.
S’altro che lagrime: though not particularly jumping to attention until now, Bonney delivers on her big moment. It’s hard to get this kind of voice – bright and ringing at the top, honeyed middle – for a small role. Maestro once again proves excellent attention to detail by employing Bonney, probably the ideal Servilia or our time. Those non gioveras are the best since Lucia Popp’s and the rest of the aria is conducted with freshness and noble feeling.
Ecco il punto…: having previously only heard Jones as Ruggiero in the excellent Hickox Alcina I didn’t know what to expect. On paper a mezzo Vitellia is ideal. In reality there are several pitfalls what with the wide emotional and vocal range required. I had mixed feelings about her Ruggiero, some of the arias coming off optimal, some not so much. As Vitellia I was pleasantly surprised. Like I said before, either she is a very intelligent singer or she and Maestro were on the same wavelength – or perhaps both. The result is very strong. She dealt with the pitfalls using her strengths, even when those weren’t conventional. Her understanding of Vitellia and vocal delivery was well integrated within the central concept of this recording and followed logically. The frenzied way she starts the monologue mirrors her displeased entrance; Speranze… addio! deflates as it should. It all comes full circle.
Non piu di fiori: here is where the mezzo blooms. Even a young Vitellia is by now wiser and more human. The basset horn is equally as meditative, with some nice, unexpected touches matching Jones’ own. The veggo la morte/ Ver me avanzar bit seems at the edge of her chest range but nonetheless has a satisfying fullness few Mozart sopranos can pull. On the other hand she can – and does – get luxuriant on the high qual orrore! It’s never ugly, but then that’s consistent with the rest of the recording. She places the low G correctly, though it’s far from a strong or beautiful. It doesn’t really matter, she conveys what we need to know about Vitellia at this point.
Act II finale
The trumpets are forward making the start rather abrasive then things retract to their elegant place with well behaved strings and the noble intervention of the choir. It’s the kind of architectural finale we sometimes get with Tito.
Tito himself is still gentle, heartbroken and just about Imperial, the others as before. Vitellia is subdued in delivering her perche… son io. Remorseful, she only gets almost ugly on abusai! Then she sounds self loathing on procurai vendetta! I like it, one of the best Vitellia end-speeches. Bartoli’s Sesto sounds relieved at the end, in spite of what he’s actually saying, Tito almost paternal.
The trumpets kick off a triumfal Eterni dei. They’re still a wee bit too abrasive for my ears. The choir is very energetic, the tempo very brisk and everything else builds the traditional, no-nonsense Tito grand finale dome.
Verdict: a very satisfying take, based on a solid and very clear concept, respect for the work, strong ensemble of soloists and excellent attention to detail, though not in order to present a very original take on Tito. Maestro seems to trust the work and is content with presenting it as it is. Combined with the HIP AAM it makes you feel like this is how it sounded in 1791.
- the internet tells us he was indeed an acclaimed Mozartian. ↩
Posted on December 30, 2015, in 1001 musings on la clemenza di tito, mezzos & contraltos, mozart and tagged academy of ancient music, christopher hogwood, la clemenza di tito, mozart. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.