Tito on the cusp of a new era (Cuvillies Theater, Munich 1989)

This is another Tito from the vault and comes from the beginning of the memorable year 1989. I have no idea how long I’ve had it as I grab Titi as I see them. Though any contemporary ones will take precendence, that’s not always the best idea, as some of these seemingly random oldies can surprise you.

The sound is quite boxy but, like I always say, something’s better than nothing in the case of live musical recordings. At first glance there a few names here who were making the Mozart rounds at the time. A classic Vitellia in Varady, Winbergh who was also singing Idomeneo then and Murray, who sang Sesto at Salzburg and elsewhere during that period. So how will it fare against the other 25 or so Titi I’ve gone through?

the Roccocco Cuvilllies Theater

Tito: Gösta Winbergh
Vitellia: Julia Varady
Sesto: Ann Murray
Servilia: Helen Donath
Annio: Susan Quittmeyer
Publio: Karl Helm
Conductor: Bernard Klee | Cuvillies Theater Munich, 12 January 1989

Overture: quite sprightly, Klee keeps the things moving

Ma che, sempre l’istesso: well acted, driven by Varady, yet very fast so it’s important to know what they’re saying or you’d miss a bit. We know Varady was a ball-breaker type of Vitellia and we’re not disappointed.

Come ti piace, imponi: very full of life, both Vitellia and Sesto. I approve! Now I wish the sound was better because this is worth the replay button.

Annio: rushes in, again good snaky acting from Varady. Murray’s Sesto is quite on the edge already.

Deh se piacer mi vuoi: starts before 10min of the show are over! Yes, it’s that fast. But after my recent Cosi experience this is a breath of fresh air. Don’t get too used to it, though 😉

I know I criticised Varady before (similarly to how ACA has made me uncomfortable in this role, but also like ACA) she is a very good Vitellia. I don’t think we have this kind of Vitellia voice nowadays, though I have not heard them all, obviously. But I would like to hear one that is similarly bright and forceful at the same time, with such clear phrasing and easy flow coloratura at the top.

Annio : Sesto: we move on in that energetic way young people have about themselves. And they waltz right into

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: they blend very well and this duettino sounds really nice when it’s faster. I’d really like a clearer recording…

March/Serbate dei custodi: the March is fast and Serbate even faster. Somehow the March keeps the solemnity. The recording is warped on the choir (especially the sopranos) but they sound rather good all things considered. It goes with the bright and energetic ethos we had so far.

Tito : the BFFs: we skip the loot talk, Tito just wants Sesto and Annio to stay behind.

March reprise: what’s not to like? I wish all Tito performances used the March as fanfare after the intermission 🙂

Tito : Sesto : Annio: Sesto immediately asks about Berenice, manly Tito sounds rather touched but heroic and tells him he wants to marry Servilia. Annio jumps in and says omg, poor Sesto, he’s tongue tied but Servilia, she’s so great! Good choice, boss. Tito is pleased and tells him to go deliver the good news so he can remain alone with Sesto and look into each other’s eyes because tutto tormento e il resto.

Del piu sublime soglio: not one of my favourite Tito voices but Winbergh’s has an undeniable heroism to it that is not unpleasant. He’s an uncomplicated Tito by contemporary standards.

Annio : Servilia: this Annio hates his mission but somehow manages. Servilia is very sympathetic.

Deh, perdona il primo affetto: beautiful tone for Donath’s Servilia. They are easily distinguishable from each other (for once) but mix very nicely.

Tito : Publio: this Tito has no time for pettiness. He’s happy to see Servilia, and perhaps even a bit surprised. He immediately tells Publio to skiddadle. Servilia is youthfully gutsy. She passionately makes her case. And we segue into

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: Winbergh is the most heroic Tito I’ve heard since Bonisolli. Not Italianate like that one but equally as forceful in approach. This not particularly detailed take works well with the direct treatment of the tempi. A bit like a game of darts. A Tito-head won’t want this kind of ethos everyday but it makes a good case for Tito for those who might still be unconvinced. By the time it’s over it’s only been 35min since the start.

Servilia : Vitellia: Vitellia sounds like she wants to learn the truth from the horse’s mouth and keeps it professional until Servilia leaves. Varady does a good job later with getting her Vitellia worked up in a credible manner.

pre-Parto recit: Sesto’s Mia vita! sounds breathless, like he’d quickly run up the stairs. Vitellis jumps into her nagging. You worthless, you good for nothing, you! Have you done what I’ve ordered you to do? Sesto’s like …err, not yet? She just blows off: No? NO? And you dare face me? You worthless, you good for nothing, you scum! It’s one of those handbag moments, though I think this Vitellia uses her hairbrush to domestically molest her adoring man. Poor Sesto, in which way must’ve his parents screwed him up so when his sister is so well put together?

This Vitellia shows no vulnerability, she is constantly attacking. Do it or I don’t want to see your worthless mug ever again! This of course has the effect of Sesto getting worked up as well. No, no, Vitellia! You will see what I’m capable of for you! I will plunge my dagger into Tito’s breast… oh, gods, what am I saying??? Vitellia’s rolling her eyes, you’re soft like a duvet. Sure, you’ll go there but you’ll lose your guts before getting the job done. We’re finished. Sesto is mega alarmed, wait, wait, don’t go! I’ll do it, I swear! Vitellia answers: Well, then. Very involved acting from both.

Parto: the intro is dramatic (“that’s it!”) and the partos are both placating, with Sesto taking deep breaths and puffing his chest in order to appear worthy. The screechy strings mirror that. I like how the cleanly meandering line of the clarinet underlines (ahead of time) the ma tu ben mio bit. No matter how incensed he is, Sesto does not forget to hold Vitellia to her part of the deal. Murray goes for colour but it’s not easy to pick everything up because of the poor quality of the recording.

The general feel is of a very young/inexperienced Sesto, who is fronting a bit too much for such a slick Vitellia. But one of the quel che vorrai faros is done with genuine-sounding adoration (very soft faro), which I liked. The cadenza has some viariation in tempi. Murray’s coloratura seems free and flowing, coping well with the speed. She gives us a rather plump belta in that sensitive spot where mezzos can add a bit of oomph. I liked it. For some odd reason the bootlegger cut the applause short.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: Varady is a pro, though Maestro has instructed everybody to zoom through the recits. If you can keep up you see that she is going for drama. Publio sounds a bit taken by surprise himself. Annio is as usual in a hurry to deliver the good news.

Vengo! Aspetatte…! Sesto!!!: very quick. Nice resonance from Publio, he usually ends up burried here. Varady isn’t afraid to sound screechy. They all sound as if they’re in the next room so it’s – again – hard to focus on details but it sounds like a very precise and effective rendition. Enthusiastic applause sneaks in between this and the finale but the public, in spite of their appreciation, is disciplined enough to immediately desist when Maestro moves on.

Act I finale

The orchestra starts frantically and Sesto seems to have stumbled on stage. OMG, what’s happening? he asks. His youth comes through again. Murray gives him a lot of humanity, alternating almost verismo voice acting with some very effective soft (youthful) lines. You feel like he’s ready to curl up in a ball and cry but he learns as he goes that he can’t. Murray says traditor gently, as if Sesto is afraid to admit to it and Maestro slows things suddenly but not sharply in this section. Nice touch. Then the and who did I betray? The best Emperor there ever was! bit is phrased in a way I hadn’t heard before.

Sesto has not lost it, he seems focused on understanding just what has happened to him. How could I let things get this far? he’s thinking aloud. Vitellia, I can’t do what you’re asking of me – as if he just realises it was an odious request. Well, he’s young. I’m really impressed with what Murray has done here. Some of the best/most interesting Sesto voice acting I’ve heard so far and everybody tries in this monologue. In believeable horror, he tries to halt the insurrection only to realise the fire has been set. OMG! he cries again.

So we have frantic Sesto, mad as a badger Sesto, suicidal Sesto, cunning Sesto, world weary Sesto and then this young, hotblooded but ultimately well intentioned Sesto, who genuinely hopes for the best as he grows up during this recit.

I also like the way Murray says …lo sapprai very softly (Sesto to himself) when Annio shows up, all clueless. Servilia is very alarmed, so is the choir (who, as usual in this recording, sounds warped) and Helm takes his cue with a lot of serious aplomb. Vitellia is also very serious. The orchestra seems called to give it a harsh sound – though that might be the recording… In any case, the drama is amped up. Generally speaking I commend Maestro’s navigation of moods in this finale.

Vitellia is the frantic one. Varady’s Tito? has the intensity of someone who’s ready to do whatever it takes to get their arse covered. Sesto, on the other hand, is sad and Maestro lets the orchestra paint that regret. He also lets the unresolved pain hang in the air a bit before having the ensemble move in. I also like how he uses the uncertain low strings underline the way Sesto makes up his mind to confess. Quickly, Vitellia moves in to silence him. Taci, forsennato! is strident, as if she’s looking around to see if anyone has caught on to what Sesto was about to do, but by deh, non te palesar she has already regained her sang froide. The choir sounds a lot better at lower intensity, where it’s not warped (please, bootleggers, don’t set your equipment to the highest volume).

All this is done in a surprising 57min.

Act II

Annio : Sesto: in this version of the dialogue Sesto’s confession indeed seems to slip out. Then he – almost liberated – goes on with the rest (I organised the riot). Annio is stunned. But he clearly loves Sesto more than he loves justice. It’s all good if you repent, he rather quickly advises. Is it?

Torna di Tito a lato: Quittmeyer has a typical lyric mezzo voice and she sings with pleasant softness but I’d like more detail variation.

Partir deggio…?: Youthful Sesto simply tries to see which is the better option, staying or leaving. Frantic Vitellia rushes in – run, run! If anybody finds you I’m lost! There is a short fight of wills broken by Publio’s arrival. Sesto sounds like he straightens his back and puts on his frontin’ face. But Publio isn’t fooled. Helm’s not the best voice actor (his delivery has rather randomly mixed authority and sympathy) but we know he explains how Lentulo confessed. Vitellia is more annoyed than anything, Sesto again feels very young. He also sounds a bit embarrassed to be ousted as a failure.

Se al volto mai ti senti: to me the oboe always sounds neat in the old sense of the term – prim and proper -, like someone who wakes up early to make sure they are perfectly presentable at work or on a date. In short, the oboe is never careless, it’s always polite and self aware. So is Sesto’s line in this trio. If he dies, he reckons, at least his guilt will be washed and his love for Vitellia will shine. Murray has phrased it before in such a way – present here also (cooing trill on ancora from in questo stato ancora) – that it seems her young Sesto is genuinely in love with Vitellia, that kind of young love that is still in awe of itself. Helm occasionally seems to go off pitch…

Ah, grazie si rendano: nice entrance by the choir but I don’t think the orchestral set up for Tito was the smoothest. Also, remember Winbergh’s Tito? He’s very muscular and lively. Hard to believe this one had just survived an assassination attempt.

Publio : Tito: Publio sounds very reasonable. Tito is incredulous. Winbergh has this perky sound that makes me imagine Tito rolling his sleeves to get to work. His lines are choppy. I could’ve sworn he says bring me Sesto and I will kill him with me bare hands! Helm has his own way with the lines, where he ululates the longer ones whether logic calls for it or not. The Senate and the beasts, ohhh, they are a-waiting! he says, and Tito answers he might be innocent or he might be a bastard, I want to see him! Well, like I said, the choppy phrase sounds like that. By all that is holy, Lentulo confessed! Publio wails again and sounds more like the High Priest of some ambiguous Eastern Cult than the Chief of the Pretorian Guard. Are you really saying Sesto might be a traitor? Oh but I will not believe something like that etc. Ma… signor, non han… tutti… … il cor… di Tito… replies the High Priest of Elzebum.

Tardi s’avvede: Helm likes piano singing which is very nice in itself. Whether Publio should sound like that is another thing. He does vary it a bit like TARDI! s’avvede (<- very softly). It’s not quite an incantation but I think going for a bit authority is the way here.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito with his rolled sleeves does not believe his buddy is a traitor. He gets all vulnerable with Annio (con-solami!). Annio, of course, can only ask for forgiveness for his bro-in-law. Alas, my prediction has come true! says the High Priest of Elzebum. Sesto is, oh, the culprit! Tito is alarmed: can this be true? Well, Tito, he told you just 5min ago and you didn’t believe him then, so why are you asking him now? But the High Priest indulges (his sort loves hearing themselves talk): too true, alas. The paperwork is ready, all it needs is (softly) the Royal Seal. We all know the royal seal is to be spoken of in hushed tones.

Tito is upset. Annio approaches very, very meekly. Tito blows off. Hey, no need to chew his head off. The High Priest mumbles, Tito tells him off, Annio goes on in the same way a peasant would, after having thrown himself at the feet of the Czar. Tito is either left speechless or ignores him. Peasant-Annio crosses himself and starts:

Tu fosti tradito: very well sung, no complaints from me, good support from the orchestra. There was applause and the bootlegger – or whoever fiddled with the file – edited most of it out, supposedly to keep the thing moving. I like clapping, as long as it’s not too loud.

Tito’s anguished recit: the Tito with the rolled sleeves is anguished all right. Treason! Who would’ve thunk it? Winbergh follows most of the words with an exclamation mark so, again, it’s hard to follow. Occasionally he throws a bit of rubato in, seemingly randomly, which has the effect of further throwing me. Yes, the traitor should DIE! ….die? But should I have him killed (amorously) before listening to what he has to say? Clearly, Tito likes to listen to Sesto; I haven’t heard this line done so romantically before. Yes, Tito, we want to listen to Sesto, too, he has his second big aria coming up.

Winbergh’s default soft way of saying his lines is amorous, it seems, as he keeps going that way. A heartbreaker? I think he also likes life in the countryside; maybe what he’s really doing when thinking about the peasant is fantasising about him and Sesto growing olives somewhere nice and quiet, fresh air, clean water. Hurry up, Tito, we’ve got 4 more arias coming up, one trio and the grand finale.

Quello di Tito e il volto: Sesto and Publio must’ve got in surrepticiously. Sesto starts softly, fitting his trembling accompaniment. Tito is touched to see his contrite face. The High Priest of Elzebum is in sermon mode. Sesto is pussyfooting, Tito growing impatient. Good blending, I think – and this may be just based on the position of the bootlegger – that they lose their timing a bit by the end (as the tempo changes). Murray does a nice job with this, softly/self effacing (but not self-anahilating) sung in great part (the trill too).

Tito : Sesto: after all, Tito is still amorous. He must’ve been whipped to start with. Sesto notices, too, and – after Tito gets impatient – decides to confess in a bright, youthful manner. Only he catches himself. When Tito is at the end of his tether Sesto puffs up his chest much in the same way he did with Vitellia earlier and says well, I’m in the wrong. I deserve to die and moreover, I want to (take that, High Priest of Elzebum and everyone else at the court who always thought I was some trendy kid).

Tito doesn’t like this turn of events. He gets in Sesto’s face and wants him to piss off. It sounds like Sesto says wait, I was kidding! but Tito keeps poking him in the chest with his index finger. You’ve annoyed me now! Off with your (pretty) head! Sesto realises he’s about to become lunch for the beasts, so he manages to ask for a last request.

Deh, per questo instante solo: I like how the intro unfolds in such a luminous way. After all this angst, there is a moment of calm and brightness. Sesto starts tentatively but Murray infuses il primo amor and questo cor with a lot of wistfulness which makes Sesto’s personality bloom. Maestro gives her a bit of space for the reprise of the main phrase, which she does very softly. Disperato vado a morte picks up steam and now Sesto is back to sounding like the young fronting kid. But by tanto affanno soffre un core we’re back to wistfulness (with some angst thrown in). I’m not a fan of Murray’s odd trill on questo (cor) – sounds like she halfway through remembered she needed a trill in there somewhere – but the rest is highly engaging. The different sections are well differentiated and carried with much dramatic skill.

Murray’s Sesto was such a pleasant surprise that I am now sad I had not heard this sooner, as I think thadieu and I ran into Murray once when coming out of Wigmore Hall. I would’ve chanced stopping to tell her how much I enjoyed this performance! Maybe some other time at Wigmore Hall, then.

Tito decides: his anger fluctuates; it doesn’t come off clearly what his decision might be but that doesn’t make for suspense

Se all’impero: very fast! Winbergh says it like fellow Swede Gedda – Seall’impero. Maybe it’s a Swedish thing? You probably want a fast tempo for this one, if you want to come out of that coloratura a winner. The B section suffers from Winbergh’s perhaps not understanding clearly who Tito is. He does manage the coloratura with aplomb, though, and on the last return of the main verse he leaves us with an accomplished and unexpected drop to piano on (seve-)ro and from there he continues on crescendo to the end. Pity about the B section!

Annio : Servilia : Vitellia: alarmed youngsters, haughty Vitellia. Varady does a good job with Vitellia’s surprise at inferring Sesto did not shop her out to Tito and them. She, of course, catches herself. But Servilia isn’t fooled. Vitellia is ready to fall apart.

S’altro che lagrime: I want a sister like Servilia! What a together, devoted person she is, eh? Sesto, you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. Donath has a lovely voice and it works very well here. The gioveras bloom as they should. Maestro gives it a wistful tinge, and, indeed, the intro reminded me of Deh, per questo instante solo. It’s another aria where a character is asked to think about love before making an important decision (about Sesto).

Ecco il punto, o Vitellia!: Varady says this in a clipped tone, as if Vitellia doesn’t really want to examine her behaviour up to this point. I bet she doesn’t! She continues with an interestingly withered Sesto!… (after il tuo Sesto fedel), which tells us thinking of what has become of him exhausts her. Varady’s Vitellia isn’t sentimental at all. Her sarcasm extands to herself. She also uses a lot of colour in her phrasing and her dramatic control is excellent even at the high speed of her delivery. Clear and concise and highly skilled = exquisite accomplishment, one of the top Ecco il puntos and highly reccomended to everyone, Titoheads and bourgeoning Vitelliae alike. It’s one of those performances that transcends its time and place.

Non piu di fiori: very slow and introverted from the intro put picks up considerably along the way. Varady started as a mezzo and you can tell she’s not afraid of this one. Good no-nonsense support from the basset horn. She picks chi vedesse il mio dolore right from the tone of the basset horn, then that one gives her a few glib notes as if to say who cares about your pain? – to give you an idea about the close collaboration between them. I also liked how she let the last syllable of (qual) orrore! drop to piano, as if Vitellia caught herself getting sentimental and decided to cull the pretense. It’s such an intelligent rendition, I forgive her for muddling about with the low G. The public did too, as it shoved in the applause, knowing full well they’ve be denied otherwise (I love an informed audience). Then again, they were so loud, Maestro gave in to them, haha.

Act II finale

Starts with a good deal of grandeur. Tito is still rather amorous to Sesto but trying hard to be commanding. Annio and Servilia rush in, Tito holds the authority but is finally surprised by a very contrite Vitellia. Winbergh’s heroic take works well for Ma quel giorno e mai questo?! Declamative etc. Sesto is quick to tell him what he wants to hear, Tito heartily approves, they’re BFFs again. The sopranos start Eterni dei with drive and they are well matched by the rest of the choir. Though Winbergh comes off very audible in Troncate… quite a bit or warping marrs an otherwise commendable effort from the choir.

In conclusion, it’s a bit of a mixed bag but wisely strong in the most important elements, Vitellia and Sesto. Varady and Murray each do a memorable job especially on their own but they come off well in their interaction with each other too. Constantly strong singing from them through the performance and intelligent, outstanding recit skills. Sesto’s monologue and Ecco il punto, o Vitellia… as presented here are well worth studying by anyone interested in getting to know these characters better.

Maestro kept it brisk but knew to vary the tempi as needed. The others had some issues with the recits (perhaps not ready to step into the last decade of the last century) but generally good singing. The orchestra and the choir were up to the task. If you come across this performance don’t hesitate to listen to it.

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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on September 30, 2016, in 1001 musings on la clemenza di tito, audio only, mezzos & contraltos, mozart, sopranos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I thought I had this one but it’s the 1988 Salzburg, with Winbergh but otherwise Vaness/Barbaux/Ziegler/Senn/Polgar. This one above’s a commercial boot? Will have to track it down, I’m interested in hearing Quittmeyer again, as she kind of folded her tent mid-career :/

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    • I don’t know but I can dropbox it for you if you want. Polgar must’ve been fun!

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      • Don’t remember, back then I was just looking for a Tito who could get the notes in, so the rest of the cast is a blur.

        Thanks for the dbox offer — if you’ve got the time, that would be cool, but no worries. I can go hunt it in the wild if nec.

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