La clemenza di Berganza (Madrid, 1976)
I had this sat among my drafts since the middle of January last year, with narry a jot to it. Since I’m overdue with my Titi, I thought it was a good idea to visit one that looks like I had not heard it before.
Tito: Werner Krenn tenor
Vitellia: Isabel Garcisanz mezzo
Sesto: Teresa Berganza soprano1
Annio: Norma Lehrer contralto
Servilia: Ana Higueras soprano
Publio: Antonio Blancas baritone
Conductor: Enrique García Asensio | Orquesta sinfonica y Coro de RTVE
Madrid, 1976 | concert performance
Overture: of its time I think – strangely dragging in the “scene setting” beginning. though the subsequent flute-led tune is as should be (light) and well taken tempo-wise. The next bit is still dragging, which I suppose is Asensio’s way of expressing tension. Later the oboe is again conversational, so no complaints about the winds bit. The transition to the returning initial theme is… well, there’s not much of a transition and on we go again with the dragging-tension. The ending lacks bite and true emphasis, though the trumpet is rather nice – I’d have given more prominence.
Not sure why there’s a pause between the overture and the recit but there is. Only there is no recit, we jump straight to:
Come ti piace, imponi: which is taken very slowly. Garcisanz seems more adept at acting than the very restrained Berganza.
Annio shows up: this recit is kept. The interacting between the three is pretty decent given the time period and the constraints of the concert performance. Again Garcisanz and Lehrer are more lively (also Lehrer naturally carries herself in a very trouser-role suitable manner, though all three ladies are modestly wearing dresses). A case could be made that Sesto is conflicted etc., though I always want a bit more life from him. But, as I was saying elsewhere, Berganza gave us the darkest Sesto there is. I think this is how she sees him because he’s as dark as ever already.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: Garcisanz has some limitations and perhaps in keeping with his vision Asensio instructed her to go a certain (more restrained than we see nowadays) way but she gets into it with enough gusto and has the right attitude for this aria. She can do seductive and she doesn’t appear so much mean as delighted with her scheming skills. Her voicehas a good weight for Vitellia. The one thing I didn’t like was the ending ff high note, which came off jarring where the whole atmosphere was not shrill at all. Yes, Vitellia wants to add the coup de grace but it must be kept within the spirit shown up to this point and the spirit of Garcisanz’ Vitellia was too playful for that.
recit + Deh, prendi: very nice, they mix pleasantly, nice tempo.
March/Serbate: slow and stately, good trumpet and bassoon. I like that Maestro gives good detail from intruments. I’d have gone a tad faster but this isn’t bad in itself. Good dialogue between the strings and the winds in Serbate. The choir is well drilled, not bad.
Tito tells the BFFs whom he’s going to marry: we’ve jumped the loot talk and gone directly to the heart of the matter. Krenn has a curious sound production that makes Tito appear somewhat fearful; very good voice acting from Lerer.
Del piu sublime soglio: decent start from Krenn but he goes through it at a surprisingly high speed which robs it of its lyricism, though his voice is lyric in itself. It comes off rather bleaty/whingy. Come on, Mr Tito, you’re in love with your own generosity!
Non ci pentiam: Lehrer continues with the good, involved voice acting and even stage movement between Annio and Servilia when she shows up. Hurrah, good job.
Deh, perdona: gorgeous start for Lehrer on top of a rather Disney-fied Deh, perdona. Likewise pretty tone from Higueras and skillfully deployed diminuendo on ardor. A beautifully sounding Annio and Servilia, you can tell who is who and they match well.
Meanwhile, Tito and Publio: discuss matters of state. Publio sounds imposing, Tito more authoritative than before (did Krenn just wake up?). Servilia shows up. Higueras is so-so in this recit, a bit too declamatory to show real personality.
Ah, se fosse: much better easing in into this one from Krenn. The tempo picks up during the bassoon intro (pretty good tone). Still there is a bit of that Disney-fied feel, a sort of polished, self-understood beauty rather than experssivity. A bit of rubato would’ve made this one bloom. Tito isn’t supposed to be morose, he’s still in musing mode and in this particular aria he’s downright delighted. If Krenn could sound more Italianate… or at least more detailed.
I think one mistake that ends up making Tito sound like a washed-up opera is to zoom through it too fast and too tight. Let it breathe a bit, let the characters enfold and then we get the beautiful opera some of us love.
Vitellia : Servilia face off: it’s rather short, Garcisanz does a pretty good job, Servilia scurries away as soon as she can. Garcisanz goes on to fume a bit, not too much, but enough. Again, I like her attitude, she’s on it. A bit too restrained as seen from 2016 but certainly on the right track.
pre-Parto recit: Vitellia is ready to pounce. Her reaction to Sesto’s “I did nothing yet” is high sarcasm rather than irate fury. Garcisanz keeps it under control when her Vitellia offers herself if only Sesto gets on with things. The way she says it, as well as her preceding body language, tells us this Vitellia has calmly planned every step of her seduction. Moreover, (she thinks) she knows Sesto very well. Berganza is again very low key. Much as I try I don’t feel it. Sesto doesn’t sound enticed at all by his Vitellia. In response, Garcisanz’ perche non parti is unusually sexy. I like it. Vitelliae tend to sound exasperated here but this is a very good idea – like dangling the prize before Sesto’s eyes, which very logically follows after her earlier offer.
Parto: very much along the lines of the funeral Parto I used as the Berganza example in my Parto podcast. The clarinet sounds a bit funny but emphatic enough – and rather too loud. I don’t know that there’s an actual dialogue. Berganza’s Sesto has long checked out of this world (perhaps before the opera started), whereas Mr Clarinet is alive and kicking. Having listened through the performance, it’s very hard to fit this aria with Sesto’s hitherto non-commital presence. The aria lurches ahead as usual, until we get to the final guardami, tutto oblio! where the change in tempo is akin to the launch of a spaceship and Sesto sort of comes to. I’d have like a smoother buildup. Berganza, of course, delivers the coloratura, with beautiful attention to detail and super satisfying agility. The fun thing whilst watching is to check out the chorus member just to her left who is watching her in rapturous admiration. For some reason, Maestro still elects to finish the aria in a slur. Come on, Mr, Sesto’s on fire!
Vedrai, Tito, vedrai!: Vitellia rubs her hands in glee. She’s known all along that Sesto would finally respond to seduction, even though he might be a ghost. Both Annio and Publio are very stately (from the marmoreal Tito). Garcisanz does a nicely alarmed Cesare…?! I like it when singers get it right, it makes it clear that Vitellia knows she’s in the wrong but might’ve just realised the real implications of her scheming.
Vengo!… Aspetatte… Sesto!: the quality of the recording marrs this one a bit. I’ve had to overstrain to pick all the details and I don’t think I succeeded. I know it’s a bitch of an aria with its merciless octave jumps for Vitellia at high speed. Garcisanz is both fearless and cautious about it. She has the high notes although they aren’t very pretty or always strong and she ends up flat but generally speaking she comes on top.
Act I finale
A monologue is the equivalent of a football set piece, which is why any mezzo worth her salt will do well. There are no distractions, no competiton. Berganza places the ball, breathes deeply and launches herself into it with a lot of power and authority. But who is Sesto angry at? She gets very soulful when Sesto muses over who Tito is to him but I don’t like the way she does the angry bit. What I like, though, is how prominent the bassoon is. I hadn’t noticed that before. Though in itself, deh, conservate, o dei! is assured and powerful, it just doesn’t gel with the rest. In other words, great skill but I’m not feeling the character at every step. I want to be transported inside the drama.
Amico Annio shows up and seems concerned. Maestro pushes it to f and Berganza can do powerful but, again, to what end? I’d like less power and more ambivalence from Sesto. He’s saying I’m going… I’m going…, meaning he’s on the verge of spilling the beans but he holds himself back. He knows Annio’s arrival is a godsend that could stop him from doing what he’s about to do yet he doesn’t take the opportunity. It’s a key moment for him, as Annio is the voice of reason, yet Sesto, for the second time, sides with Vitellia. Berganza does a bit of doubt on lo sapprai… but per mio rossor! is once again powerful. So in this case I can only conclude her Sesto’s self hatred is ++. I know it’s just a concert performance but I really want a logical development; or if not a logical one, then an emotionally coherent one. This, to me, seems like declamation + moments of sweet sorrow.
Sesto is a great character because he is so well fleshed out. Yes, good people make bad, even horrific decisions in certain circumstances, especially when caught between powerful forces who don’t admit ambivalence. Out of all the characters in this opera it’s Sesto who is the most honest even though he hides things and lies. He is aware of the tangle of relationships and emotions that link him to the others. He knows there are no easy solutions and that everything has consequences. I want all this clearly expressed by the singer.
Strangely, the Spanish public of 1976 reserved all the appluse for the end of the act.
Annio : Sesto: the recit is shortened to the point where Sesto says – very soulfully and repentantly – that he is going away to atone for his crime. Annio, as ever, is urging him to calm down and think about a way around it. I love the way Lehrer says che tu non part’ancora! It’s rather theatrical but she sounds so beautiful…
Torna di Tito a lato: very elegant and understated.
Partir deggio… o restar?: Sesto sounds annoyed at his own indecision. That’s not a bad take on it. Vitellia doesn’t give him long to debate, she comes in looking out for number one. She’s not very feverish but she is doggedly pursuing her interests. Sesto is scandalised that she could think him a traitor. Publio shows up and doesn’t sound particularly threatening. Sesto stands his ground until Publio gives him reasons to believe it’s all over. Ingrata… addio! is quite recriminatory.
Se al volto mai ti senti: Berganza works well with the oboe and sounds very detailed throughout, Blancas joins in to the soulful moment (Italianate) though I don’t know that Publio really should. Garcisanz first che crudelta! is rather beautiful. In the end it’s a bit old fashioned.
Se grazie: starts softly, nice details on winds, good tempo. Perhaps the choir needs more legato? and more involvement. Krenn’s timing/tone is not quite and he sounds… I don’t quite know how to put it – not soulful enough? It’s a very emotional moment for Tito.
Tito : Publio: Krenn goes too fast for my liking, though he retains a certain authority. Hello, Tito is supposed to be thrown by the news that Sesto is involved in the coup. He’s more like “well, ok, let’s see what the Senate decides.” Blancas’ Ma, signor, non han tutti il cor did Tito is said without any particular emotion.
Tardi s’avvedi: boring.
Tito : Annio: Krenn is a bit more soulful here. Lehrer, on the other hand, carries the emotion bucket.
Tu fosti tradito: very good job by Lehrer, again. It’s done in such a way that she’s not shrill at all (maybe trnasposed?). She’s reserved but she can deliver a tu fosti tradito! commandingly, by which I mean Annio is not downplaying the gravity of the situation. I really like her, one of the very best Annios I’ve seen. I alse like her shoulders…
Tito’s anguished recit: Krenn is more powered here but he has to, with those piercing violins. Yes, he’s making more of an effort at acting so it’s pretty decent, occasionally almost touching. He shows a certain emotional range, which makes me think sometimes he’s just not trying enough.
Quello di Tito e il volto: so though I haven’t been the biggest fan of Berganza’s interpretation up to now, the way she phrases the intro is exquisite. Sesto is very aware that Tito is mad (at him) and is pretty much tiptoing inside the hall, not daring to look him in the face. For once Krenn’s somewhat irked tone is spot on. Even Blancas is ok, though I feel underpowered. Later, Berganza’s O dio! is infused with both frustration and helplessness = excellent stuff. Krenn sounds rather funny and very far from menacing in palpito, traditore! The three of them aren’t exactly balanced in skills or tone, but I like how the bassoon comes through.
Tito : Sesto: this time Krenn’s buddy recit voice works well with the text. I’m wondering what in the world is Berganza wearing (something like a chiton, which makes her shoulders look even narrower; I suppose her intention is a nod to ancient fashion but Sesto is not a caryatid). Sesto’s confession is a bit on the theatrical side. That is a sign of the times, I guess. Two things that I noticed: the theatrical bent in recits and the general restraint that is a bit alien to us in 2016 but which works well at other times (Tu fosti tradito). Krenn goes declamatory when he tells Sesto he’s had enough of his evasiveness where today any Tito would shout in frustration. Not all of it is underwhelming, Tito’s sadness does come through. It’s just that I would’ve liked more of it. Krenn (always) sits down as soon as he’s done with his bit, so Sesto is left to ask the air for his benefactor’s hand. In an indirect way that works and I think it could be incorporated in a production – Sesto’s too late with his request.
Deh, per questo instante solo: the intro by the orchestra is way too rhythmical, this is a languid (adagio) rondo. Sadly we hear that choppiness throughout. Perhaps it fits Sesto’s harsh self indictment but still… I can imagine Berganza’s Sesto was VK’s inspiration for her boldly dissonant take in 2002 at ROH. Berganza concludes her characterisation of a very self critical Sesto, who feels like explaining himself is not only futile but immoral even. She contrasts that with an angelic delivery on the lines that refer to the Sesto of yersteryear, and to the goodness that exists in his heart, buried as it is by his traitorous tendencies. One of the most interesting Deh, per questos out there. The public agreed – after complete reserve with the applause they finally unleashed the ovations.
Tito decides: nothing. It is skipped, along with:
Se all’impero: perhaps Krenn was under the weather? I know it’s difficult but how can you have La clemenza di Tito without Tito’s big aria?
Annio : Servilia : Vitellia: the youngsters show up to beseech Vitellia to do something. Vitellia answers them rather primly that she doesn’t know how she could help. They are not deterred. I liked Garcisanz’ coy take on oh, friends, you go on, I’ll catch up with you. It felt like Vitellia was ready to bail out on them, Sesto be damned. Likewise her non tormentarmi!(!!!) was self pitying enough. There seems to be this thing with the way they did recits back then: emotion-blahblahblah-emotion – they start strong and end strong but there’s that stretch in the middle where things aren’t developed enough. I guess people used to that would say that nowadays’ singers overdo it by putting emotion in every syllable.
S’altro che lagrime: well… Higueras doesn’t have that Mozartean crystal clear voice in general. Her non gioveras are very alarmed, partly because sustaining those highs doesn’t come particularly easy and/or because her high aren’t the most crystalline.
Ecco il punto, o Vitellia…: what I said before about recits = emotion-blahblahblah-emotion doesn’t, it seems, apply to all. This being a more important one, it gets treated with the care it deserves. Now Garcisanz isn’t Roschmann or Naglestad but the moods are well differenciated and she reaches Vitellia’s reduction to human size.
Non piu di fiori: here we have a case of a perfectly competent singer that just doesn’t have that extra something. She has colour but it doesn’t seem enough; her tessitura covers it but the voice isn’t as forceful as I’d like. I want more drama, more abject despair – Vitellia isn’t a paragon of taste or dignity. For one reason or another I don’t feel like there’s a dialogue between her and the basset horn. Each is doing their thing but they should work together. There is a danger here that the basset horn gets out of hand playful. What I suppose Mozart had in mind is to make it critical of Vitellia. Sarcasm works. In this case, though, the staccato is skipping merrily whilst Vitellia is whinging. Also Garcisanz tone simply does not fit the basset horn. To end my criticism or her, she also choses to do the low G on an a vowel instead of the fiendish e. By the end she looks like she’s thinking thank GOD, Mary AND Jesus! But the chi vedessi il mio dolore bit does sound lovely in itself from the basset horn.
Act II finale
Che dal ciel loses steam towards the end. It’s rather hard to get a very good idea of choral work from a TV recording from the late ’70s but I venture to say this was a run-of-the mill rendition of the intro to the finale.
Tito is back to dish out justice/forgiveness. Krenn is pretty good at this kind of thing. O stelle! O numi! comes off on the hilarious side again, especially as it is rushed. Vitellia confesses in a civilised manner and Tito forgives her likewise. He then goes on to muse on the situation and forgive all. It’s good, some of Krenn’s best acting of the night. The chorus is a bit funny at the beginning of Eterni dei but then mostly recovers (reminds me I would like to once catch the Arnold Shoenberg Choir sing this = Mozart heaven! I might even put up with so-so singers for that).
It’s not the best effort out there but Berganza (especially her Deh, per questo instante solo) and Lehrer are worth it.
- You might think I’m mistaken but that is, interestingly, how they are billed on the TV programme. I found it curious so I left it in. ↩