Röschmann’s Tito (Salzburg, 2006)
Some things are so good they need a reprise.
Or do they?
Just in case anyone is wondering, I’m talking about a performance from the 2006 revival of Kusej’s now classic Salzburg production of La clemenza di Tito, the production that sealed yours truly’s interest in opera in general.
This is a French radio broadcast of (mostly) very good soound (you feel like you’re in Vitellia’s cleavage) and it starts with the announcer calling Michael Schade “Shed”. Is he right? I always pronounce it the German way but this is the first time I’ve heard someone actually say it. Then again I also pronounce Kurzak with a zs.
Tito: Michael Schade
Vitellia: Dorothea Roschmann
Sesto: Vesselina Kasarova
Annio: Malena Ernman
Servilia: Aleksandra Kurzak
Publio: Luca Pisaroni
Conductor: Nicolaus Harnoncourt | Choir and Orchestra of Vienna Philarmonic, 16/08/06 Felsenreitschule/Salzburger Festspiele
There’s a funny thing going on with these CDs, namely surprise skipping. Right after Ma che, sempre l’istesso it ffwded itself straight to Parto (track 15). Talk about artificial intelligence – but it underestimates my patience. Dear CD, with this opera – and this cast especially – I can proceed in disciplined fashion.
But since we’re here, is track 15 any good? Of course, captain, of course it is. Sensei VK, Master of Parto, is in the dojo with I imagine the same Clarinet Blackbelt from 3 years before. Replay button at the ready. This Sesto seems a bit more vulnerable than the 2003 one, perhaps hiding a substance addiction. He’s not exactly ecstatic in the coda. Those people who couldn’t see this production in 2003 clap hard this time.
Anyway, the main point: Roschmann is even better here than in 2003. Everything one likes about her voice is here, from the first moment she opens her mouth to the end. Just wow. That this came shortly after her singing the Countess at the same festival is badarse. (If we go by the date on the CD this was first night, I heard things got a bit pearshaped by the end of the run).
Overture: exciting as ever, just the right tempo.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!: this Sesto is a bit tired of his Vitellia already. Come on, mister, drop her. But who could resist the intense lure of this flesh and blood Vitellia? Unlike glib Vitellias, this one isn’t playing, she’s so convinced of what she wants she makes it seem logical.
Come ti piace imponi: he’s really romantic, the poor chap. DR learned in the meanwhile that it’s Sai ch’egli usurpa un regno not rengo 😉 Gorgeous Ebben, che più s’attende? No chance for Mr. Sesto. He’s very gentle (swoony pianissime) and Captain Harnoncourt is in high rubato gear. They end up sounding more lovey-dovey than on the 2003 DVD. Replay, replay…
Is this better than the 2003 one? I don’t know (yet) but if anyone was going to best that one it was going to be themselves. Classic.
Annio: ME, the original Annio of this production, was unlucky enough to get ill at the time of the 2003 broadcast, reason for which EG had her big break instead. I’ve not been a fan of ME’s CT sound in the past so it’s early days here. To me she sounds so much like EG I can see why they were slotted for the role at the same time. Nice half confused o, virtu… from Sesto. More lovey-dovey seduction from Vitellia in il colpo ancora non è maturo.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: not sure I agree with her venturing really abrasive on the last ingannar but all in all it’s a Roschmann tour-de-force. Here you can check how much you like DR. Just like this isn’t your regular Tito production, this isn’t your regular Vitellia. She’s more real, more serious, more intense and more into Sesto than is usually the case.
BFF moment: nice hearing two “dark” mezzos. They match well and make credible friends. ME sounds moderately excited about getting his BFF’s blessing.
Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: very noble and a little bitter-sweet.
March/Serbate, Dei custodi: the motley choir is back gawking at Tito and chirping a powerful ode at odds with their intrusive behaviour. Or maybe they think they can intrude because they are so devout. Grand.
Seems like everybody is more lyrical this time. Tito sounds rather sad/tired in Ogn’altro s’allontani. Annio is anxious, Sesto needs a lot of courage to ask about the Berenice business, Tito is gently mad but trying to cheer himself up with his Sesto. Annio is of the upright kind but rather romantic. Of course Tito is still into Sesto but must be approached with caution nonetheless.
Del piu sublime soglio: gotta love the natural way Schade starts this. It’s funny hearing this as the second run because I keep thinking “this is really good, they sound so at home with it”. Duh. Generally what seems to mark this production is all around thoughtfulness. This isn’t your usual giddy ‘soglio of a man in love with the idea of generosity, it’s a meditation on the (in)compatibility between power and happiness. You know the text that runs at the beginning of the overture on the DVD1 – Schade’s Tito does indeed sit around philosophising all day.
Annio : Servilia: this Annio is mad as a badger. Servilia copes well with his dramatics. A word to the wise (ME): take it easy, babe.
Ah, perdona: grown-up but rather nice.
Tito : Publio : Servilia: as usual Tito acts extravagantly when Publio is only looking out for him. He’s paying attention to Servilia and makes an effort with her. AK’s Servilia is stressed out. Tito is excited by her honesty. Schade still plays him as a proper eccentric but it’s exquisitely done (not a caricature).
Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: the orchestra is very romantic and elegant. I love how Schade’s integrating the aria with the recit. The way he says ah, se FOSSE sounds like look at this woman, she’s great. Gorgeous pianissimo halfway through (si grave) affanno. Whoever’s was the decision, stroke of genius with the dynamics of interpretation. This Tito is way too sensitive to life’s imperfections.
Servilia : Vitellia : Sesto: Servilia is obviously happy but can’t wait to sneak out of Vitellia’s company. Vitellia sounds so furious she could cry. After all it’s her pride that decides the course of events. Sesto is very uneasy, like he’s thinking he could’ve used more Dutch courage before approaching her. Vitellia is ready to deck him when she hears he’s done nothing so far but then starts putting the moves on him. Corri, mi vendica, e son tua! = fantastic voice acting, very realistic. Corri is urgently whispered, mi vendica almost shouted and e son tua! sounds like avenge me and you can do what you want with me.
Parto: this time Sesto is not taking on the dare as readily as in 2003. He’s very unsure of himself in his twin partos. Quel che vorrai faro… VORRAI faro! is obviously him trying to talk himself into the deed with very little conviction, nicely paralleled by the clarinet with a questioning twist. VK elects to sing almost the entire aria super softly which gives it an air of neurotic detachment. Luckily the gorgeous, fullbodied, bronze-coloured (donaste alla) belta is still here. I love the way she sings that, though I don’t know how well it fits this time. There is a strange wind-like sound during this that I hadn’t noticed before. It’s like she was positioned near an open window and you could hear the traffic, but we know she sang this in the middle of the ground floor of the set so I wonder what the mic was picking up. I hear it’s very hot in Salzburg in August.
Vedrai, Tito, vedrai!: Vitellia is grimly satisfied by which I mean her fury is lessened to a manageable degree. Roschmann seems to be having a ball with the entire thing, possibly even more than three years before. Ti pentirai! comes off like take that, bitch. Annio and Publio are very serious here.
Vengo!… Aspetatte!… Sesto!…: I like how Roschmann gets gradually hysterical during the trio though she needs to force the heights of her top register into being. Good support from buddies.
Act I finale
The good thing about the slowness at hand is that everything comes off crystal clear. Every moment of Sesto’s vacillation is vividly mirrored by the orchestra. Vienna Philarmonic is a heavy orchestra and these are already some of the most Romantic lines Mozart has written. Sesto’s initial confusion gradually grows into a sort of frenzy barely this side of mad. But VK’s Sestos (moreso this one) are always anchored in humanity. This Sesto is a good guy. I like her che tumulto del cor; del cor is said softly, shifting the focus inside. You can imagine Sesto looking within himself, realising that the physical fire isn’t as scary as the internal one.
As usual with VK, there are many colours depicting Sesto’s scattered monologue. Initially he tries to rationalise what’s happening but he’s very soon starting to realise that he’s got into something he can’t quite cope with. He’s almost detached when he muses about the difficulty of committing a criminal act (why did he think it was easy? or is he talking about the physicality of stabbing someone?). Immediately afterwards he is appalled to acknowledge his new identity as a traitor (which seems to upset him more than that of murderer). Then (I remember how conveniently Lentulo positions himself) he stabs “Tito” as he says un gran tumulto io sento d’armi, e d’armati; ahi! tardo è il pentimento. Like, oops, a buncha people rushed me and I panicked. Not the most realistic stabbing scenario but we’ll have to let it go – Sesto was all over the shop at this point. It took me until now to realise that Vitellia’s U-turn very classicaly mirrors Sesto’s here half-breakdown. It’s kinda interesting how, just as he prays that Tito somehow survives his (halfassed) attempt and his music recomposes itself into something resembling melody, buddy Annio shows up. It’s almost as if he gets a little prize for not being as horrible as he could.
Annio is upright and manly, Servilia alarmed but not hysterical, Publio rather cryptic in tone, Vitellia on the other side of the mic and Mr. Stab-a-lot returns for some unusual here (and maddeningly slow) chest register plumbing with e nel tuo sen profondo/rinserra un traditor. Vitellia catches sight of him and demands to know what’s going on. Her Tito???? is full of that urgency Roschmann is so good at conveying. Sesto is on another plane through this bit – a plane of shame and little else – but Vitellia has quickly regrouped and she very efficiently stops him from giving away their secret whilst everybody else mourns the situation.
The choir’s gently mourniful lines of – female led – oh nero tradimento contrast with the – male led – shouts of tradimento! to great effect and somehow manage to make this first act finale both balanced and unbalanced, which is probably what Mozart had in mind.
Annio : Sesto: Annio delivers the good news in a serious tone, Sesto sounds genuinely happy. Then he thinks aloud, giving himself away. Annio is shocked. Then it gets feverish, Sesto frazzled and Annio “don’t leave just before I run some interference” = tells you the chap is already trying to figure out how to best present the situation to Tito. It’s engaging.
Torna di Tito a lato: so Ernman is a an earnest Annio, of the “please, please, Sesto, listen to reason” kind. That boat has sailed, mate, Sesto only listens to passion. It’s well acted, the voice is a bit too much run of the mill mezzo though.
Sesto : Vitellia: In questo… seno… sepulcro… restera – not VK’s best voice acting. Sesto sounds offended that Vitellia thinks he could betray her. She knows Sesto should under no circumstances speak to Tito because Tito’s generosity would soften him. Sesto doesn’t answer her but you can tell from his ingrata… addio, that he won’t betray her. Publio seems rather chummy when he explains how the plot failed. Vitellia’s o, colpo fatale sounds annoyed.
Se al volto mai ti sento: in this revival, VK is going for a rather self-effacing Sesto. Roschmann’s in charge Vitellia is palpably confused at this point. Their last che crudelta… is a thing of beauty; with their floated -ta, Sesto and Vitellia are for a split second on the same page. Exquisitely done. Pisaroni’s Publio seems even more comfortable with both than in 2003 (it’s the hair sniffing scene 😉 ). The trio comes off super stylish and sexy.
Ah, grazie si rendano: I have many small pleasures and this is one of them, one of my favourite moments in the opera. It’s a very quiet, introspective moment, especially effective in this very anguished production. I love how the music “blossoms” at (che in Tito del trono) salvò lo splendor.
Tito : Publio: I think this Tito more than others is interested in friendship. In spite of his eccentricity he’s a very brainy man. He doesn’t come off as an easy friend but he definitely likes the idea of friendship, perhaps because he sees himself as a noble soul and friendship is a noble ideal. It’s impossible for him to believe that Sesto isn’t faithful after being showered with so much generosity. This time Publio sounds more diplomatic when he says ma, Signor, non han tutti il cor di Tito.
Tardi s’avvede: LP is as heroic as anything here. It doesn’t seem quite as slow as in 2003.
Tito : Annio : Publio: I’m surprised by how fair this Publio sounds when he sees Tito’s faith in Sesto’s innocence is starting to crack. He could be gloating but he’s not. He still gets a bit too self assured when he urges Tito to get signing which elicits a ferocious response from Top Man. Annio seems scared shitless…
Tu fosti tradito: …but he pulls himself together to come off rather “manly” (so to speak, sort of matronly in sound). There’s little chance that ME’s tone will ever be my favourite but it’s kind of interesting here. At least she doesn’t fall into the hysterical trap that habitually swallows mezzos here. The orchestra sounds satisfyingly dramatic in the repeat (in that way that Harnoncourt uses for similar purposes in Come ti piace imponi when Vitellia comes in). I like her warm but dignified il nostro dolore (and its repeats in the middle of the aria), well done.
Tito’s anguished recit: Schade goes from anguish to self pity rather skillfully. Tito’s angry, he’s hurt, ultimately he’s alone but he doesn’t realise this loneliness is of his own making.
Quello di Tito e il volto: VK’s Sesto gathers his dignity for his entrance and seems remorseful (he gets painfully embarrassed by the end). Schade’s Avvicinati! sounds chilling, good job the orchestra again. Publio is friendly as usual and all three sound like close buddies.
Tito : Sesto: Tito uses sarcasm to cover his hurt when he asks Sesto if it’s true he wanted to kill him. I like Sesto’s ah… there’s pain and loneliness and loss in there. He’d like his friend to share the burden but alas. He tries to skirt the issue, Tito loses patience so Sesto finally bites the bullet and owns to his guilt without spilling anything.
Deh, per questo instante solo: a pensive intro – nostalgic but not quite as cheerful as usual. Sesto must be too aware of his guilt. It’s clear by now that VK has built this performance on ppp singing, so Sesto is a bit otherworldly. Embarrassment is his most obvious characteristic. The way VK says questo cor sounds a bit unsure of himself, as if wondering whether he really is that good chap he’s trying to portray.
But why does Sesto feel the need to sing this at all? (aside from the fact that the primo uomo needed a full length act II aria). Sesto is exasperated throughout act II, especially after he swears to Vitellia that he wouldn’t betray her. So this functions as a steam-letting moment.
Tito decides: he’s at the end of his tether. It’s not high octane drama, rather sort of up and down in intensity and hard to follow. Not the most convincing. (Then again, a rambling Tito is a perfectly reasonable decision). Schade has saved 80% of his energy for:
Se all’impero: it pays off, he does an exciting Se all’impero. It’s got depth, dignity and strength. And he can deal with the coloratura. The low strings drive a nervous bounce throughout that supports Tito’s intensity. Maestro matches him for lyricism during the che sia frutto del timor bit. Orchestra and singer come together for the contrastingly triumphal finale, which is grand in an abstract way; Schade imbues it with melancholy which I feel Maestro underlines via a tinge of rubato. It sums up what this production is all about: grand but hollow.
Publio : Vitellia: Vitellia shows up in panic. She wants to know what has gone down between Tito and Sesto. Pisaroni has such great comic timing which spills here a bit, as he makes Publio’s curt answers glib. But then there’s that dark dimension Publio has in this production – his jealousy of Sesto, in this case for being excluded from Tito and Sesto’s conversation. Hey, Publio, really, even if you were Tito’s best buddy, this is something those two need to figure out alone.
Vitellia’s …morra?! referring to Sesto’s fate is super alarmed, like she can barely bring herself to say the word. But she’s still more concerned about number 1 and sounds on the brink of tears when she thinks Sesto might’ve talked about her involvement.
Annio : Servilia : Vitellia: the youngins’ come in strong – Servilia alarmed, Annio solid and manly. Vitellia is cold as if to say “eh, go away”. But the realisation that Sesto has kept his mouth shut throws her. Her formidable fury has some strength yet when she tells them to leave her alone with her misery.
S’altro che lagrime: AK has a surprisingly full voice for one so young – maybe why she went on to sing belcanto for the next decade. Like I said in the Il turco in Italia post, the woman definitely sounds better live. There’s nothing wrong with her singing (the gioveras were fluid and easy) and the public did enjoy it. Maybe it’s me who’s too stuck on a bright sounding S’altro.
Ecco il punto, Vitellia…/ Non piu di fiori: this time Roschmann sounds like her Vitellia does indeed love Sesto. What can I say, this time around the show belongs to her and Schade. She’s in outstanding voice throughout, it kept me thinking: “so lush, so good for this”. Non piu di fiori is funny in that it sounds rather old fashioned, especially after such an impassionate rendition of the recit. But then it pulls you in and by the time it gets to veggo la morte ver me avanzar you’re hooked. The basset horn is very forgiving here, as if offering shelter to this lonesome Vitellia. Maestro makes the strings bounce again for intensity. We know this is the moment when Vitellia sits on the toppled wardrobe and applies ashes to her face, in an acient gesture of repentence. There’s just a tinge of shrill in Roschmann’s voice, enough to remind us this is a mad scene. The ending is loud and sped up to emphasise the claustrophobic feeling.
Act II finale
Starts grand and nervy on the heels of Vitellia’s rondo. The accents are clipped and the choir sounds detached and even fawaray – for effect. Let’s not forget it’s the cannibalism scene. Which reminds me, in the libretto we’ve got people gathered in the arena to see traitors thrown to the lions. So that cannibalism isn’t quite as out of place as it normally seems, is it now?
Tito announces that Sesto’s fate is decided in an alien voice, rightfully to emphasise that this ceremony is superfluous. You feel it in the way he says this that he’s thinking “you’ll be so surprised when you hear my decision”. Annio and Servilia still try to plead with him, sounding very human by contrast. Vitellia brings her anguish with her, having not had resolution for Non piu di fiori. Tito is a bit thrown by the width of betrayal but not for long. Once more Vitellia spits out la tua bonta! as reason for her spite. I always thought it was shrill and stuck out like a sore thumb but doesn’t Tito’s unnatural magnanimity do the same? So that bonta is what irks Vitellia, a woman who is a lot of things but phoney not so much. It comes full circle from her conversation with Sesto at the beginning of act I. Tito, of course, doesn’t get it, and the opera continues towards its pre-ordained conclusion. Musically the interesting thing is Tito’s weaving in and out of the eterni dei chorus bit, alone and above and disconnected. Then there’s the vocal version of my Where’s Tito? game: catching the individual characters in the ensemble. Even in an involved production like this there are moments when you simply let the music carry you because beyond anything else it sounds just right.
The greatness of this production resides in the fact that it’s acted in a very straight forward manner. There are no clever twists (even whatever is going on between Sesto and Tito is merely ambiguous – yet well exploited). It’s just what the libretto says with perhaps a bit of backstory for Publio2. But what depth to that acting! Another thing: Maestro’s penchant for slowing down Mozart actually fits the production. The rubato underlies the indecision, confusion and disconnect this is built on. Whilst listening to the ending I thought to myself how lucky we are to have 2 versions of this definitive Tito. Though the rawness of the original made the production the classic it is, I’m glad they resisted upping the cynicism this time around.
- Titus, einem Ausbund an aufgekalrter Gute, ist jede Tyrannenwillkur fremd. Er lasst die Dinge geschehen gewahrt selbst Intrige, Verrat und Verschworung freien Lauf, greift niemals aktiv in die Geschichte ein, verliert sich lieber in philosophische Gedanken uber die Milde oder das Urteil der Zukunft. ↩
- Ok, and the cannibalism. ↩
Posted on February 29, 2016, in 1001 musings on la clemenza di tito, audio only, mezzos & contraltos, mozart, sopranos and tagged la clemenza di tito, mozart, salzburger festspiele. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.