Category Archives: 1001 musings on la clemenza di tito
deggial’s constant food for thought
As the banner says, September is normally Tito Month but since we had a very full August this year I think we’re all taking it easy in September 😉 Nonetheless, (this) September 6 marks the 226th anniversary of Mozart’s Tito premiere in Prague. So I’ll leave you with that silly Sesto and Vitellia dance from Sellars’ production:
I think it’s supposed to be erotic? I don’t quite believe Vitellia is trying to ascertain Sesto isn’t armed and ready to off her instead, though they are performing those weird stabbing movements as well… I guess the little dance gives you the gist of the opera and especially the gist of Sellars’ approach to it.
The usual thoughts on arias, recits etc. I’ll put this behind a cut because at this point I think it’s mostly of interest to me. Let’s look at it again when the DVD comes out next year. I’m curious how it’s going to feel from a few months’ distance. Read the rest of this entry
Just a reminder, in case you haven’t had enough Tito this month: tonight the Glyndebourne team will be live at the Proms at 19:00 GMT for a last round of Tito. If you can’t make it tonight, you’ll find the concert archived by the BBC for a while (a month, I think).
ps: since I’m gif happy now (thanks for the relentless push, t 😉 ), I also added the Parto shake to the big WTF Medley post. You know you want to see it.
Spending a couple of hours on a flight with an impressive number of rambunctious children under 10 offers a good opportunity to sit through this unecessary bloated production. At several moments I wanted to skip the extraneous music but faced with the joy of the child next to me playing with the tray I went back to Sellars et all 😉
Well, hohum. Quite the letdown. It’s got enough visual chutzpah to give an initial impression of thought out but there doesn’t seem to be any coherence at all due to the lack of strong relationships. The drama is pushed back behind the chutzpah and the endless choir action. I would under no circumstances show this to a Tito novice. But I think Tito veterans should see it for many reasons, none of which, sadly, have to do with the story of Tito – except in the general Tito context. It’s unusual but it’s not illuminating, unless you really wanted to know more about the MusicAeterna choir.
Let me start with what I liked:
- whatever is going on during the overture. It’s enegetic and interesting, it hits you and it feels refreshing that you don’t quite know what’s going on.
- I liked the idea behind the choreography on Non piu di fiori. The development was thin.
- Servilia and Sesto have a lovely sisterly relationship the likes of which you’ve never seen in a Tito production.
- the black/white/ethnic thing. It’s unusual (though not for Sellars) and it says something. An interesting conversation could be had regarding what exactly it does say. I am not entirely sure.
What I didn’t get:
- the development was thin in general. I never got the important relationships, aside from Annio and Servilia, who look like a real couple and the nice revelation of Servilia and Sesto.
- who is Sesto, really? What is his motivation, really? It’s never explained and you need that – there can’t be Tito without it laid out clearly. If any of you get it, please enlighten me. I am stumped. She looks like a student who hangs out with people of a radical bent, though the same people seem to really like Tito. She doesn’t look like a proper fanatic, especially when she starts feeling really remorseful. Again, if you saw something I didn’t, please argue your point. I would love to see more meaning that I could so far.
- Vitellia! She reminds me of the one we know but, again, her relationship with Tito and, especially, Sesto, is unclear to me. The upshot is I loved Schultz’s musically. She needs a proper Tito production, I hope she gets to sing in one somewhere we (I) can see.
- Tito dying lessens the drama and the message. In fact
- the lack of proper relationships dilutes the message to the point where it’s hard to care about what is going on.
- The MusicAeterna choir and their neverending closeups: yea, they’re good but I don’t see why Tito has to be used as a vehicle to push their agenda to the point where it’s more MusicAeterna choir than Tito.
I am still undecided on Currentzis yet. Some good stuff, some overdone, meddlesome. Whover advocated the extra music needs to be spanked with a wooden paddle (unless they particularly like it).
Yesterday I had a short exchange on this subject with Kate V. and it seems it got stuck in my head before the performance 😉 Here are some things that occurred to me only whilst seeing it again in the house (says something about my usual attention span):
on the subject of age: it works for Sesto to be/look significantly younger, especially when the production is based on the angle of Tito missing those more innocent times. In this case = absolutely. I was thinking about Sesto’s rock, too, which is located right under Tito’s chair/throne. There is a reason why it’s there and not across the stage, which would also make sense.
burying the magpie (during Del piu sublime soglio):
- shows us that Tito and Sesto are working on their issues together
- Tito hasn’t forgotten but has forgiven Sesto, so he’s not faking his goodness
- Sesto is aware of his own nature and is actively trying to become a better person
amicitia vs il primo amor: Glyndebourne translated il primo amor in Deh, per questo as “the first friendship”. During the opera (ie, other than in this aria) their relationship is called amicitia, whereas Annio and Servilia always refer to theirs as il primo amor. What I take from this is that Tito and Sesto’s friendship is of a more intense kind than usual friendship (though not necessary gay as we understand it today). Also considering it’s only called amor during an aria, it’s probably not something that’s so much put into words as felt.
questo cor and altro cor: Sesto refers to questo cor in Deh, per questo (not cor 😉 ) and immediately on its heels Tito asks for (un) altro cor in Se all’impero. I like that link of ideas and I also like how at the end all the people who turn out to share questo cor are downstairs in the reeds whereas the bureaucrats are upstairs in the manmade structure1.
ah, sventurato!: says Publio, upon hearing from Tito that Sesto’s fate is decided (right before Se all’impero). I’ve always taken it to refer to Sesto but after yesterday’s performance it hit me that Publio is talking about Tito because he knows Tito2 and he also knows what the mob wants (not merciful leaders, despite professing otherwise).
the reeds: they pop right out of their stands, if you look closely when Tito is harvesting them (Tu fosti tradito).
- I like designer Christian Schmidt’s comments on how the structure seems to have dropped from the sky in that originally idyllic landscape. It’s a good metaphor for adult life, with its inherent rigidity and hypocrisy invading the simpler, more direct and more imaginative world of childhood. ↩
- isn’t he singing what Tito feels during Quello di Tito e il volto? He’s clearly aware of Tito’s struggles. ↩
This time I cried during Del piu sublime soglio. Awesome performance from Croft.
Everybody is more relaxed by now, the acting flows beautifully. There are no more cameras.
Young woman at intermission: is Sesto sung by a woman? I kept wondering…
Other ladies in the loo queue: Yes, yes, he is. There was a cast change. But the reviews are about the one we’re seeing.
Young woman: oh, wow! Sesto is the star of the evening!
Other ladies: YES!
The only applause came after Parto. I was confused as it had been so beautifully performed, light and gentle, with some swoony ppp along the way (really moving) but also funny (Vitellia putting the moves on Sesto).
Especially in the wake of the Currentzis Tito I want to commend Ticci and Gupta on the fortepiano continuo for a very light, unfussy touch.
It’s raining. I took refuge under a very friendly mulberry tree with a cute little sleepy bird. How appropriate!
We had a weird incident on the way here, that held up the trains for almost an hour and a half. Luckily I was on a train ahead of the suggested train. The shuttle waited for the stragglers 🙂 but we only had 20min to settle and have a bite before curtain up.
Loud thunder was overheard in the auditorium just as the insurrection started on stage.
Staff offered umbrellas but I like my tree. Too bad I couldn’t visit with the sheep properly (now grazing on the adjacent meadow) ❤
Gent next to me in the auditorium: nobody dies! Not very operatic.
Dehggi: nobody should die. It’s all about the search for a better, more forgiving society.
After the intermission:
This was an all around emotional day, as it was my last time at Glyndebourne this year, the end of “my” season (though I really would’ve liked to come back again a couple of times, but you have to observe life-opera balance). Also going to the opera on your own makes for a very different atmosphere, perhaps even moreso when it’s your favourite opera. Even so, a few conversations happened:
Lady who sat next to me for act 2: I saw you talking to the usher about those free seats up there.
dehggi: yes, I want to possibly upgrade because this is my favourite opera.
Lady: …of all operas?!
dehggi: YES! I really like the ideals, forgiveness… and the music is beautiful.
Lady: well, someone is always forgiven at the end of Mozart operas.
(dehggi: someone, even some ones but not everyone.) I didn’t actually say it, because I didn’t particularly want to chat, I was in my own world and cried again during Eterni dei. After the curtain calls I dashed out for fear somebody would notice how tearful I was. Also to be first in line at the loo.
On the bus there were two French people behind me. The woman thought the production was too “brutalist” and concluded “this was the new tendency”. I wanted to turn around and ask where she had been for the past 20 years. She did think the voices very good, though this opera was “by no means” one of her favourites (dehggi: eyeroll). Then she went on to wax lyrical about some wonderful production of Giselle at Opera Garnier.
At 21:30 the train station was almost deserted and the train board let us know the 19:30 was delayed. Some ladies started to make plans in case the trains were still disrupted. I said I’d help them split the taxi bill to London if it came to that. We co-opted some very excited Japanese ladies, so all in all, we would’ve been 5 to split that bill.
The train was on time. I’ve never heard the Glyndebourne crowd whoop so freely outside the opera house before 😀
Everybody said they liked the performance, very good voices. One of the “taxi planning” ladies explained trousers roles to me 😀 Then I somehow got to talking about the earlier Hamlet production/opera with the other taxi lady. She, like the gent sat next to me at that performance, loved it (the actual music)! She also thought the production was “more modern” than this one. (dehggi: head scratching moment. Maybe we were thinking of different things?).
In the end, there were three arias that received applause: Sesto’s and Se all’impero (<- a lot more than for the livestreamed performance). However, there was very loud thumping at curtain calls. I guess this audience is more used to lieder? Heh. I’m not quite sure why they kept their appreciation to the end if they actually liked it this much. There was, however, a lot of laughter, even during Vengo…! Aspetatte! I agree, it’s a funny moment.
Just in case somebody doesn’t know about this and/or hasn’t had enough Tito this week 😀 when it rains, it pours! (btw, I mean to finish this! I am just juggling two Titi at the same time and spending a bit too much time with the ending of the Glyndebourne one at the moment 🙂 )
– does the Tito dance –
Intermission edit: I didn’t intend to liveblog this (because I like to take my time with Tito), I started with regular handwritten notes but then the production sort of took over and I had to “say” something. I wanted to do a different post for this later but it looks like I should better add my earlier notes here and let this mofo do its thing. Also I may not be able to watch everything tonight on account of work (I’ve already been late yesterday because of the Glyndebourne livestream), so I may just end mid-sentence, to be added later. Anyway, if you’re here, enjoy 😉
one more edit before I sign off for tonight: someone needs to tell Sellars that too much hand movement ain’t needed for operas written before 2010. Come ti piace imponi was a riot because of that. Come to think of it, maybe those were secret hand signals from Vitellia to the terrorists… but where’s the sex? Too much violence, not enough sex (remember Bush’s Everything Zen? Ha, I didn’t think I’d come to quote that fake grunge band but there you go, thanks for nothing, Sellars).
THE WTF MOZART MEDLEY TITO
Tito: Russell Thomas
Vitellia: Golda Schultz
Sesto: Marianne Crebassa
Annio: Jeanine de Bique
Servilia: Christina Gansch
Publio: Willard White
Conductor: Teodor Currentzis | musicAeterna / musicAeterna Choir
Director: Peter Sellars
Felsenreitschule (where else?!)
edit on 5 August: for the sake of completeness, here are my initial handwritten notes, in navy, with some additions after I slept on it.
Overture: running? Structures? coming out of the ground? Sesto and Servilia are running, he’s confused. The motley choir is back! Are they muslims?
And who are the armed dudes? Terrorists already? Guards?
Tito and his court come in, he checks out the crowd and wants Sesto and Servilia to join them; he introduces Sesto to Vitellia but the way they look at each other you can tell they’ve been acquainted already. The plot thickens! Did she signal to Tito which “commoners” to get?
Come ti piace imponi: interpretive dance?! Well… 😀 Berenice (muslim?) and Tito say a long goodbye
Annio: quite strong voiced/ no nonsense
Berenice shakes hands with Vitellia; Vitellia looks ready to bite her scarf off
Deh se piacer mi vuoi: very smooth start, nice trills on tuoi and fede; continuo gets busy (kitchen sink); Sesto wears cargo pants with tie – I really like Servilia’s black and white gauzy dress, girl has style; Vitellia puts moves on Tito who initially seems repulsed by her but then seems pulled into her game (did she not notice that? why does she need Sesto then?).
What does Tito want?
Musically I like this version, it’s very elaborate, with the right accents and very good chops from Schultz; it’s Vitellia we know and love but I think the message gets muddled as she moves between Sesto and Tito. I know there is a point there but we get it from the libretto. I think this would confuse Sesto even more and this aria is all about Sesto getting the right message.
It’s quite odd, as for once she seems to put the moves erotically on Sesto but then she gets further from that, which I don’t think is a good decision. Context intruding?
Annio has Servilia with him when asking Sesto for her hand, I like this. It’s good that she’s included, instead of the men (men? see below) deciding her life. Their (all three) interaction is very warm.
Deh prendi: interesting interpretive moves; are Sesto and Annio women? I don’t think men interact that way with each other. I will take it they are women in this production. Nice vocal mix and I like the added trills, you barely even get that in this little duettino. I like their warm interaction 🙂
Serbate dei custodi: who is Annio? He seems to be more the upper class dude in this production. Sesto and Servilia go back to “their people” and hug them. It feels like they’re about to plead their cause or something.
The choir has good vocal balance.
White’s Publio looks super fierce.
Tito gets massive gold bullions as his temple.
Edit during stream: Lucky me! I’m loving this production, too, though what the hell is it with the Baroque music during the Temple scene? (Ok, Rob explains it in the comments; I mean he explains what it is, not why it’s there) Molto odd! Let’s get back to Tito.
Annio speaks up about how cool that gal Servilia is, who, remember, is there already, so she gets the good news directly from Tito and runs away. Annio is gutsy.
No more talk – Del piu sublime soglio – which Tito sings at Sesto (who is there, too). He seems touched. Very forceful segue into it; seems Tito gets bigger voiced with every production. The couple of trills don’t come easy to Thomas. I enjoyed Croft’s softly delivered avrei a lot more.
Everyone is very sweaty already.
Ah perdona: wish the damn continuo wouldn’t keep barging in where it’s not its business. (see the comments again if you’re not used to Currentzis) I like how Servilia ain’t happy Annio shopped her to Tito. They seem very worried, not the usual happy duet and without much talk they start to sing. I like the rubato Currentzis gives the both of them to emphasise their own position within the duet.
Tito : Publio: they talk about the list of wrongdoers brought by Publio. Sesto is there for it, quite pointedly so. Tito says se ragion to Sesto (in regards to why people plot against him). Does he have, well, reasons to hint at that?
Servilia kisses Annio to make her point to Tito and then I guess what happens next makes sense:
Is this La clemenza di Tito or La voce di Servilia? More Servilia intrusive music?! Seriously, maybe I spoke too soon about liking this production. SCREW THE EXTRANEOUS MUSIC!
… because I guess she thinks she needs to sweeten the verdict a bit? Still:
Ah se fosse: THANK FUCK! For a moment there I really thought we’d skip it. It’s kinda interesting how everybody is there all the time and it makes sense. Though when we have bassoon why do we need that annoying continuo to start the aria?
Parto already! Ha. I have to think if Sesto being there for everything justifies why he should be so easily pushed into Parto. If anything, I’d think the opposite. Lying on one’s back for Parto = classic 😉 Also, the week of the French Sesti (ok, Stephany is not). That physical jump into guardami! was amusing. Poor Sesto. He killed the clarinet, eh heh. Is this a first, when even the instrumentalists lie on the floor?! 😀 Too much movement for the cadenza, though the ladies who complained there wasn’t enough movement in the Glyndebourne one would love it (some old bats on the train back to London bitched about it being too static; I hope they liked this shit). Whose brilliant idea was to have a closeup there? My head was spinning from all the movement up and down and all around. Gimmicky to the max but at least Crebassa tried to look for a chest touchdown. Didn’t find a sexy one, eh.
I really liked how Sesto and the clarinet even did their trills together – BUT this is not about Vitellia anymore. It’s not even just Sesto and his emotions anymore, it’s Sesto and a flesh and blood double. Like I said, gimmicky to the max. Unless I’m missing something, which is possible, because duh.
Vengo!: waaaaay too slow! Haha, kidding, of course. The ’80s called and couldn’t get through to get their styles back. That being said Schultz has some mad chops.
Act I finale – more Baroque shit to mark Mozart’s Romantic forays, yay! I hope Servilia ain’t back with something praising the lords in Latin.
Sesto is putting on a massive submissive act considering how organised his insurrection is.
I really wish they got on with things, I need a bathroom break and the cats were clawing for grub. Finally! Sesto, suicide bomber? Yes, it works, but he lives on to sing the damn Deh per questo… bomb failing?
He’s trying to shoot Tito when he can blow them up? Clearly he’s not thinking straight. Then Tito knows already?
(Dude, take off the damn vest!) How did Annio not see what happened? Haha. They all see everything except the most important bits.
Good call Currentzis to speed the damn thing up after wasting so much time with the baroque stuff. Seriously, though, why is Vitellia wearing latest style cca 1987?
And still nobody notices Sesto’s suicide bomber vest! It’s not 1987, you know.
Is it Brian Large again? I want to see more wide views, less sweat (I know this is maddest continental heatwave since 2003 (coincidence? probably), everyone is drenched in sweat).
End of Act I conclusion: mad chops Schultz, me gusta mucho! WTF is with the extra crap, though??? This is the year Tito is fucked with, yanno. Remember the one with the belcanto add-ons? Let me make one thing clear: TITO DOESN’T NEED EXTRA MUSIC. There, I feel better.
Wow, this production – Sellars has really gone a bit cookoo. I mean, dude. What? But also kinda cool. Some things are very cool, like how everyone is always there and how that makes a difference in how they react – screwing with meaning, I guess. I like that. But we’re wasting too much time with gimmicks. It really does not need gimmicks (especially what happened with Parto and the camera panning into the mad movement – just no). Guth wins this time. Less fuss, more personal meaning, more intimacy. This take is too much about the bigger picture Tim Ashley wanted. I hope he went to Salzburg to see this one.
Currentzis needs to put a cap on the continuo. Seriously, it’s fucking annoying. But some things are cool. Too bad he’s got a kitchen sink kinda mentality. TOO FUCKING MUCH! Calm down a bit, it’s good music already. Trust Mozart.
Tito is loved by ethnic people. Nice. Is this the Requiem? Can we just have Tito for like 2hrs? Will we get something from the Magic Flute as well?
How about the Commie looking dude? He’s some sort of friend of Sesto’s and Servilia’s. Maybe from when they went backpacking during their gap year and stayed with his family in the Urals and experienced the simple life Tito wants?
I’m all for context but I’m feeling this is too much context and not enough Tito.
Shit, it’s Torna di Tito a lato! Who would’ve thunk they’d throw in a lesser known Tito tune?! Did you guys know I once woke up singing it aloud? Nice trills. In fact, the trills are some of the best things in this Mozart medley.
(phew, Sesto took off his suicide bomber vest!)
And just like that it’s Se al volto. Crebassa is a bit whingy sounding but it’s a very supple voice and this trio needs a bit of whinge. Schultz = ❤ Sesto loves his family. You know what, I
only always meant to ask why Sesto and Servilia have so little (like 0) stage time together. So I’m glad we get warmth with Servilia here.
You know what I ain’t feelin’? Sesto and Vitellia’s connection. I’m not sure who exactly they are to each other because chemistry is not built into their acting.
White got some soft action in those vienis.
The continuo doesn’t know yet if Tito has survived. It’s all as it’s happening 😉 Too cool for school.
Ah non sventurato = Tito came back from the dead due to the love of his people! Haha. I like Thomas but he’s a bit past Mozart days.
Tardi: I never thought I’d get to hear White sing Tardi. I just like the man. It’s of the booming type, of course. TARDI! Ehehehe.
Publio (to Annio and Servilia): see what you did to him? Anyway, come on, Tito sign the damn thing.
This Tito on deathbed is like the Act IV of Traviata. He sings on! But first some more Requiem or whatever. I mean, duh. 1791 and all. It feels like they were saying in the ’50s when Stalin died (mum told me that when he died in 1953, in ye olde Eastern Europe people were crying in the street like the sun had just dropped off the sky). I want the Papageno-Papagena duet, me.
Come on, folks, with Glyndebourne we were already almost through with Se all’impero. I need to get going. Guth wins so far.
Tu fosti tradito: and io sono partito, ciao bambini! (nice chops, Annio, had we heard more of this stuff tonight, eh? That music is nice, I wonder who wrote it and why.)
fffwd to the end: I wanted to hear what Currentzis did with Eterni dei and… well, when I caught a glimpse of Sesto in the plastic jumpsuit and then how he dropped Tito – clearly he’s not done his Moving and Handling Mandatory Training! Somebody’s (Annio?) going to have to write a very complex Datix on this serious incident and let’s not talk about the inquest. Sesto’s not done with Publio yet.
This unusually picture heavy post is meant as a lure to Glyndebourne for all of you who read this blog but haven’t been there yet. They were gathered over the past three times I’ve been there this year.
As Team London boarded the Glyndebourne bus (you can see it here, posing at Lewes station), the host let us know that we had brought back the sunshine – the weekend had been atrocious. Indeed, the rain returned yesterday in great form – at least in London. Today is all right.
But Monday was a gorgeous day, and as we sat down for cake and prosecco we decided it definitely felt in the low 20s rather than the expected 18C. That’s Summer in England for you, counting your blessings when the thermometer reads 21C 😉 to be fair, the first part of July was scorching. All two weeks of it!
Southern Rail, who operates the trains that take one to Lewes, has gone (together with its passengers) through a very bad year. I heard that last year Glyndebourne had to bus its audience from Haywards Heath to the Glyndebourne gardens (that’s about halfway from London), instead of just from Lewes station. Luckily, this year things went well, though I understand Southern Rail service is still iffy. We boarded an earlier (than recommended) train to Brighton and then took a connection from there. I’m telling you this because it is one of the several (cheaper) routes from London into Lewes.
It was a bit windy, but then again, it’s in the middle of the countryside. We sat on the grass on the other side of the manor, by the auditorium, so we had the chance to hear the singers warm up and even chuckle a bit (they didn’t rehearse any arias per se that I could tell and you know I can tell). We were also right next to the camera crew and the presenter rehearsing for today’s introduction to the livestream. I pretended to be too cool for school and didn’t take any pictures of that 😉
We overheard the presenter mention something about the “James Bond theme” and we looked at each other like say what? Before the show there was a talk given by the Costume Crew which we did not attend because it’s nicer outside. So whatever the Costume Crew was on about went straight over our heads. I couldn’t imagine something further from Tito than James Bond but who knows…? We were wondering who exactly would James Bond be in Tito? Surely not the strangely Trump-like Publio… So from a random piece of info to a random picture:
During the intermission I was a bit too excited to eat, but somehow managed to put away a couple of kebabs (thanks, Leander!) and quite a bit of cake (thanks, Baroque Bird!) by the end 😉 Due to the lovely weather we were able to leave our blankets and things outside (these days you need to check your picnic basket in if you’re not leaving it on the lawn, but most do).
I think I was trying my best to be informative in the post about the performance and didn’t hammer on just how excited I was to hear the overture unfold. In fact it felt a bit unreal but then the curtain rose and everyone tried to manage the reeds and the puddles and before I knew it we got to the act I finale. I don’t know if the marshy bottom layer of the stage is supposed to be Glyndebourne-y or not – because of course the marsh makes sense anyway – but I will reiterate how much I liked the feel.
I have since read Tim Ashley’s Guardian review and I didn’t understand what he meant by “in reimagining the Roman populace as civil servants on the make, however, Guth loses sight of the wider political implications, giving us little sense that lives are at stake beyond the corridors of power in which the drama plays itself out.” I didn’t take it the chorus are meant to be civil servants as much as self righteous mob, which I think does indeed hint at the lives at stake – if the beehive mind has so much say in what goes and what doesn’t, well, then you get Brexit.
But for me Tito has always been about personal relationships and the delicate balances within a close knit group. I wouldn’t usually think too much about the wider implications, though I admit perhaps I should (that would also explain the hitherto rather perplexing motley and meddling chorus in the classic Salzburg Tito).
But let’s get back to the garden, the furthest side of it, where things start to get a bit wilder:
In keeping with the mix of wild and nostalgic feel of this production:
(1) Guth managed not to fuck up this Mozart! (praise the gods)
(2) Mezzo Vitellia = YES! ROH take note. It’s time to bring Tito back to London.
(3) DVD! Not only a livestream, a Proms stint but also a proper DVD is in the works. 4 Cameras were in the house yesterday. Glyndebourne does things in style (also it was high time they put the old production behind).
Tito: Richard Croft
Vitellia: Alice Coote
Sesto: Anna Stéphany
Annio: Michèle Losier
Publio: Clive Bayley
Servilia: Joélle Harvey
Conductor: Robin Ticciati
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Glyndebourne Chorus
Clarinet obligato: Katherine Spencer
Director: Claus Guth
When the last echoes of the Act I finale faded I thought to myself I don’t want to wait for 1 1/2hours! At the end of Act II I said I was ready to come back and see it for the rest of the week. Guth and team have put together a highly cinematic Tito.
I kept my mind clear of any reviews before this report so you shall see for yourselves on Thursday and make your own judgments. So far, though – and you know how it is when you have to focus on everything at once and can’t stop the show and “rewind”, or go to the kitchen for a moment and ponder, and especially when it’s your first time seeing your favourite opera staged – I am very pleased with Guth’s take on it. It’s dark but it’s not quite as angsty as I feared (certainly not as angsty as his TADW Poppea). Ticci himself opted for a super clean libretto to go with brisk – rambunctious, even – tempi. The house was packed and the applause generous throughout plus lots of stomping (especially for Stéphany) at curtain call. I am of course very happy to see such a hearty reception for my favourite opera 🙂
We did not luck out with our seating. It seems there’s an unwritten law that says lots of the action in a staged production shall happen on the right side of the stage (from the audience’s perspective) – unless it’s Wagner, says Leander (read her take on this performance of Tito here), who actually sat through 5 hours of Tristan for Connolly’s sake. We, of course, had seats on that side of the horseshoe). So we did miss a fair bit of the action (such as the shooting of fake Tito). I’d moan more if there were no livestream and DVD or me going again next week.
Evil Sesto. Sometimes Guth’s interest in deeper psychological investigation pans out. Here we have the return of the lesser spotted evil Sesto. Normally we know who our baddy is. In this case Vitellia is ambitious and dangerously driven by scorn but it feels like high drama would’ve been averted had Tito simply made the nature of his generosity clearer. Moral: if you pride yourself on working for the higher good, take time to speak to all your subjects, lest someone feels shafted due to miscommunication. People aren’t used to such levels of goodness and they might take your kindness for love.
But what of Sesto, eh? During the overture we had video projections. Praise the lord, they do serve a clear purpose here, as they give us a snippet of Tito and Sesto’s friendship. It’s a neat little black and white short that focuses on a key moment of their childhood. I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know yet what happens. Watch it on Thursday 😉 Let’s just say that it tells us there is something inherently wrong with Sesto. I’m game with that! Guth gives us a possible answer as to why Sesto keeps getting into these ambiguous relationships. It makes that line ch’io son l’oggetto dell’ira degli Dei work for us 21st century audiences.
It’s kind of interesting that Stéphany ended up playing this new incarnation of evil Sesto not that long after her stint in the Zurich production of the original evil Sesto. Whereas that one was very self aware rotten, I feel this one is bad in spite of himself. He doesn’t want to do harm but he keeps succumbing to those atavistic impulses. I like it. The black and white short’s atmosphere reminded me a bit of Haneke’s White Ribbon. (Speaking of films, a favourite of mine – and if you know it you won’t be at all surprised I like it -, the Japanese classic Onibaba, also has sex, betrayal and revenge happen within a world of tall grass).
As you (may) know, my previous experience of Stéphany live left me very unimpressed with her acting abilities, to the point where I purposely missed that particular revival of the Zurich Tito, even though it’s one of my very favourite takes on the story and I would like to see it one day in the house, if they still hold on to it.
Before the show started I said to Leander that I’m open to possibilities, as long as the whole works out. And I have to say that within this whole Stéphany did work out. Leander herself, who bitterly lamented the cast change, ended up saying she did not miss Lindsey in the end. The public gave her stomps. So you know she must’ve done something right.
She did. Her singing was technically flawless. The coloratura was as flexible as anything (what is it with French singers and top coloratura chops?), she divested herself of a couple of well placed and new to me flourishes on each of Sesto’s big arias and the initial partos had individuality enough to inform us of his bravado/indecision. She made a surprisingly convincing troubled young man (early to mid 20s?) and would’ve done so even absent the (well done) facial hair.
For me she was just short of spectacular because I still want more (or warmer?) charisma in Sesto, more can be done with Deh, per questo aside from beautiful/energetic singing and I also want a ringing chest touchdown in Parto, and, of course, a truly memorable voice. But that’s me with my standards for this character, which have prevented me from settling on a number of staged productions until now. You can argue this quasi-psychopathic Sesto does not need the warmer charisma, Leander will say her voice is finer than Garanca’s. I may yet grow to like the performance more upon further investigation, because I am already a big fan of the Tito/Sesto background story.
900 words before we get to Vitellia. Let it be put in print that Vitellia is hands down my favourite role for Coote. I like her even better here than as Ruggiero. What I was saying about her voice’s texture proved true. YES! We need a mezzo Vitellia more often (3 mezzo Tito = for me! 😀 ) and those who are willing, let them sing the hell of her.
I don’t know about the neck brace, but I had no problem whatsoever with her singing last night. It got to the point where I was thinking: why do sopranos sing this role, again? And you know how I love my Roschmann1 Vitellia, which I should re-listen to see why indeed. (With a mezzo you don’t get the intended screechiness but you get more unshakable power instead). Coote’s voice has got the right warmth and weight and she managed the high notes like the pro she is. I’ve seen her quite a bit this year (1 x Octavian, 2 x Ariodante) and I have to say, the woman knows how to sing.
Baroque Bird was asking what is she known for? (as in what genre). And I said, everything! She is at a point in her career where she can navigate everything, reason for which I vote she sings more of this stuff – earth to ROH again. I guess you could – and after the livestream I probably will – make a deeper analysis of her performance but for now I will just say I simply loved it, the rather benign crankiness and the coogarness of it. She’s a determined woman and she found a way to get what she wanted – but didn’t realise she unleashed something she couldn’t quite control in the end.
Guth isn’t very focused on Vitellia, having established she’s rather succumbed to wishful thinking and misunderstanding than pure evil. She’s ambitious enough to manipulate Sesto but her contrition at the end of act II is unusually credible. Her and Tito’s interaction is likewise warmer and more mature than usual; they are more together as people than in most productions. She’s getting more and more annoyed with the turn events take and is chain smoking in very tall grass, which caused Baroque Bird to suggest she could’ve set the Capitol on fire all on her own 😉
Vitellia (act 2 finale): Tito, I have to tell you something.
Tito: what is it now?
Vitellia: I started the fire. My chain smoking got the better of me.
Tito: Romans, keep Rome safe! Quit smoking!
Tito. We had a bit of a laugh at the intermission, what with the childhood short where Tito seems older than Sesto but not quite as much as the obvious age difference between stage Tito and Sesto. I joked that perhaps suave Sesto (is there any other kind?) has his Dorian Gray portrait in the attic. I wouldn’t put it past this child of the corn.
Age difference out of the way, Sesto and Tito share an interesting natural feel that I don’t know that I got in other productions. Usually much is made of the stunted relationships among the characters, which is reflected by a stiffness in their interactions. Here we have a moment where, in a rambunctious effort to get through to his best friend, Tito lifts Sesto off the ground, in a gesture that is both chummy and manages to draw further attention to Sesto’s apparent youth – which he (Sesto) does not seem to like.
Their age difference can point out their different levels of responsibility/maturity. This Tito is very sane (though his limits are pushed) and a down to earth man, with a higher than usual (even among Titi) common touch. Yet he is forced in a position of power which finds him removed from the very people he wants to be close to. That’s true to life. Once you get in a position of some sort of power, everyone, even those closest to you starts to treat you differently.
There is that moment when a frustrated Tito asks Sesto if he hoped to gain happiness by attaining power and Sesto says no. Well, perhaps Sesto would benefit from becoming more responsible. But this one can’t.
Croft is here perhaps the most self effacing Tito I have seen. He too is a cog in the system. His subjects (the highly stylised-moving chorus) seem to act of their own accord, their adulation towards their leader a given but also a powerful force. Guth elects to use Serbate, dei custodi as the mob casting out Berenice2 rather than as an ode to Cesar. Another touch I really enjoyed.
So in the end, when Tito decides to defy the gods (mob?), it feels like this is his own breakthrough, with Croft conveying that with much clarity mixed with that specific brand of vulnerability that makes his characters so human with so little apparent effort. His Tito knows it’s dangerous to meet badness with understanding and kindness but (in the long run) it’s worse to perpetuate the cycle of violence and if there is one thing he can do from his position is attempt to break this cycle.
Croft’s singing is also off the cuff, so when he gets to toss the endless coloratura in Se all’impero you may be fooled it’s no biggie. He puts the benevolent in benevolent ruler by voice alone and Tito’s mission statement comes off a less like a here’s my big aria! moment and much more integrated into the whole. It’s a rare achievement.
Tito’s 1:1 with Sesto also benefitted from Croft’s unfussy Tito. It was easy to believe him when he told Sesto I’ve never hidden anything from you. Their interaction here was, as it should be, driven by a genuinely friendly Tito. I think this particular Tito’s drama is that he isn’t unapproachable like others tend to be. He lost his approachability due to his position instead of something he has or hasn’t done.
… there is more I want to say and surely it needs further pondering but right now I have to stop short to post this even if it’s not completely done. Rest assured I’ll have more to say in the next few weeks and again when the DVD comes out.
Two more things before a more step by step rundown after Thursday: the clarinet/basset horn was fab and the chorus, drafted at the back of the stalls/under the boxes during the Act I finale was in very good form – and very effective due to the positioning (shouts of tradimento! coming from underneath), sending shivers up my spine.
As I was saying, there were some harkbacks to the classic Salzburg Tito, among them the tiered structure, about which Ticciati gives a neat little explanation below:
Edit: seems Coote is still singing tonight 😉
Edit at the intermission: all went well! In fact better than well, it was pretty much great! Echoes of the classic Salzburg production so I’m happy 🙂 everybody sounding great. Lots of fun and cake for Team London.
Just heard Alice Coote won’t be able to sing Vitellia tonight due to a very serious sounding stage injury. I really hope she’s doing as well as it can be expected 😦 and I wish her a speedy recovery. Glyndebourne has not updated their Tito page yet so I don’t know anything else, since as you know I live under a rock outside Twitter-world.
It just so happens that tonight is the night Leander, Baroque Bird and I have tickets to Tito, so stay tuned for other (hopefully better) news from the Glyndebourne lawn and auditorium.