Category Archives: 1001 musings on la clemenza di tito

deggial’s constant food for thought

In local Tito news

… and online! also on Radio 3 at the end of August

Glyndebourne has posted a podcast on Tito with their current team (none of the singers, though), featuring music from the 1993 Harnoncourt recording (and not their own recording, for some reason). Usual readers aren’t likely to hear many new things but at least it’s clear that teams have left behind the old school slight embarrassment at producing Tito and are now focusing on the music (how it’s different from the other things Mozart composed in his later years) and what it’s about.

Aside from the 3 August Glyndebourne livestream (6pm London time), Tito will appear at the Proms (semi staged with the same cast) on Monday 28 August at 7pm London time. All I’m going to say about that is the broadcast will be a much better deal than the actual Royal Albert Hall acoustics.

Glyndebourne 2017 loot

Glyndebourne 2013

Glyndebourne 2013

Given that I haven’t been to Glyndebourne in a few years, I don’t know if this general booking system is new or not. In any case, you apparently can’t sneak in before the appointed time. Though I got in 14secs after 6pm, I was #622 in the queue. Luckily I was tag-teaming with Baroque Bird, who was in the 300s already. So Team London will be there for La clemenza di Tito on 31 July (Glyndebourne will broadcast the 3 August performance) and yours truly will see a couple more shows (Hipermestra and Hamlet in June plus another go at Tito in August). Let’s hope for clement weather 🙂

edit: we now have Annio (Anna Stéphany) and Publio (Clive Bayley). Interesting that Stéphany is Annio, seeing as how she’s already sung Sesto. But I do rather see her as Annio. You may remember I saw Bayley as Aye in Akhnaten last year and when I say saw I mean it. It’s going to be nice actually hearing him 😉

Belcanto Tito – a bit of update

See post La clemenza di Tito (De Marchi)

What the title says. This morning I found some time to write on a few arias/ensembles from act II. Sorry I’ve written so haltingly about this interesting take on Mozart’s Tito as well as for the blog being very quiet, but February has been busy at the currently relocating casa de dehggi. I really wish I were writing rather than packing my belongings and having to decide on which crap I haven’t used in ages I can/can’t part with!

New Tito on record (De Marchi/Academia Montis Regalis)

(don’t fret, that’s not JDD as Vitellia… not yet)

It appears the tired old complaint (“Tito was written in haste”) hasn’t died a death yet. De Marchi has dedicated time and toil to the version popular at the turn of the 19th century – the one with Weigl, Mayr et all’s “bonus material” and presented it live in Innsbruck in 2013. The polished result of the revived version has now come out on CD (see the full cast).

Supposedly Tito’s arias weren’t good enough and the 1800s’ zeitgeist cried out for a Tito-Sesto duet. Well, the dehggi-geist always wanted another Sesto-Vitellia duet though the geist allows that’s not necessary feasible in a two act opera seria and an expressive Se al volto mai ti senti is almost as good. The Metastasio original contains a badass Tito-Sesto recit so I’m not sure what more a duet could add. Possibly overkill, with Deh, per questo instante solo and Se all’impero immediately after said recit. But I haven’t heard this thing yet. I like Allemano yet I’m in two minds about Aldrich. So I’ll wait – with some interest – until this appears in certain circles.

Opera in 50 words (Tito)

The past couple of months I skipped Titoness so here’s something I concoted a while back and never got around to posting:

One can go on elaborately when talking about what this or that opera is about – or one can boil it down to essentials by summarising each character’s arias:

the picture belongs to NEC, who have a Tito recording I will talk about as soon as I listen to it

Vitellia (hobby: shooting herself in the foot):

  1. Do as I say or else
  2. I’m screwed!

Sesto (excuses, excuses):

  1. She’s too hot to refuse
  2. Err, I didn’t really mean it…

Tito (Mr. self-analysis):

  1. Generosity is its own reward
  2. Happiness is honest people
  3. I’m a gentle chap

Annio (wise beyond his years):

  1. Dude, start grovelling
  2. Please forgive him, boss

Sevilia (not-so-secretly hates Vitellia):

  1. Do something, bitch!

Publio (secretly loves Tito):

  1. You’re too nice for your own good

Grand Tito again at Salzburg 2017?

Just a few months ago I was predicting the future Tito would be seen in a smaller, cosier space. Wrong! The new production of Tito returns to Felsenreitschule with a cast that doesn’t look Mozart-based. I am somewhat puzzled/surprised rather than miffed I was wrong – or ahead of times (as I like to think).

Currentzis, obviously looking to make his way through the entire Mozart catalog, brings his musicAesterna choir and orchestra crew to support the following:

Tito: Russell Thomas (this could be interesting)
Vitellia: Golda Schultz
Sesto: Marianne Crebassa (should we expect cape tossing? I’m all for that)
Annio: Jeanine de Bique (a soprano Annio)
Servilia: Christina Gansch
Publio: Willard White (really? Isn’t he a bit too estalished for Publio? Good for us!)

You will notice that everyone save for Sesto and Servilia is black. That in itself can take Tito in a different direction than usual. So probably no cape tossing.

Grand but intelligent Tito (Met, 6 December 1997)

This is one of the many revivals of that one and only Tito production the Met has ever had so it’s interesting to see how every cast makes it their own. In the 2012 one, Fritolli brought out the hilarity of certain moments but here Vaness is a typical grand diva. ASvO is (way) subtler and more of a knight errant than the courtier type Sesto EG portrayed. And ARJ is an wise and understanding older friend as opposed to Filianoti’s yearning for connection Tito.

Tito: Anthony Rolfe Johnson
Vitellia: Carol Vaness
Sesto: Anne Sofie von Otter
Annio: Angelika Kirchschlanger
Servilia: Heidi Grant-Murphy
Publio: John Cheek

Conductor: James Levine | Met Chorus and Orchestra, Sirius radio broadcast, 6 December 1997

A bit of digging reveals some interesting bits about this run of Tito: this particular performance, a matinee at the end of the run, was ARJ’s last Met performance. Annio was young Kirchschlanger’s debut at the Met and sounded quite auspicious. Vaness was unwell during the second performance and Brenda Harris (whose 2002 Vitellia I discussed here), as Vaness’ cover, saw herself debut straight into Vitellia’s tough act II. I don’t know how that went but there aren’t harder Mozart ways to make an impact, so go her.

Overture: zooming past (picking speed as it moves). Maestro has a long association with Tito and wants everyone in the audience to know this isn’t season filler.

Ma che, sempre l’istesso: Vitellia is ticked off and wants Sesto to know it. The way Vaness recites sounds like she also wants to make it clear this is Vitellia’s Grand Show. Knight on White Horse with a Mind of His Own Sesto is in high placating mode. He uses his own powers of seduction to try and cajole her.

It’s a a seduction sparring moment, I like it. Even when Vitellia says Fine, I’m leaving! and Sesto gets all wait! Wait! We’ll do it the way you want it, it still feels like he’s not actually afraid she’ll leave; it’s more part of their role-playing. I’ve always liked this very short bit at the beginning where we get a glimpse of their complex way of interacting and I’m always interested in how it’s done.

Come ti piace, imponi: Sesto says ok, hurt me and Vitellia delivers her verdict: kill your best friend. Sesto goes on oh, your wicked mind turns me on. The mille affetti bit can be taken in many ways, but I guess it might sound totally wrong but I’m so turned on is as good a way as any. Can’t really argue with fantasies, eh? Except when they’re starting to act on them.

Annio barges in Vitellia’s bedroom: Annio summons Sesto to his boss best friend’s side, Vaness’ Vitellia is cutting, Annio tells her to sock it and gives them the good news showcasing Tito’s self effacing nature. Vitellia realises her time might’ve come. I like the little cembalo pause, pregnant with possibility. It’s like Vitellia is quickly formulating a plan. Listen, gorgeous, let’s leave the dagger fantasy in the bedroom for the time being. Sesto thinks first Annio barging in at the inopportune time, now this! Blue ball moment if ever there was one. Vitellia steps on his foot and he says ah, fuck it! You’re always dangling release in front of me and then… Vitellia realises she’s gone a bit far but since Annio won’t go the hell away, she needs to convey the message via song.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: Vaness and Maestro know what this is about and she can convey seduction with much ability. It’s still mostly cold and remote but perhaps this Sesto really likes the hard to get kind.

Annio : Sesto: Annio explains his other (real?) reason for dropping by on his buddy’s booty call. Annio, that’s a bit selfish. Sesto has it hard to begin with, let him cope a feel when/while he can. Sesto, though, states that he loves being intrerupted at such time by his (other) best friend. Sesto, you martyr, stop putting others’ happiness before yours!

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: if you can’t touch your girlfriend, you could do a lot worse than getting a hug from your pal. Very nice blending from ASvO and Kirchschalnger.

March/Serbate dei custodi: everybody in their place, Tito’s coming. Maestro likes it speedy but doesn’t shy away from measured paces either. The choir could’ve learned a bit from the above blending but they make it through.

Tito is in the house: the loot talk is cut, Tito tells all to leave him with the boys. Works for us but “in real life” that would’ve been a bit strange. Then again, back then sometimes the whole point was just “to see” the celebrity of the day. Maybe still is, come to think of it.

Annio : Sesto : Tito: Annio knows what he wants, Sesto is pretty gutsy, Tito doesn’t really want to talk about it, good call. But what he does want is to reward Sesto with the title of Imperial Brother-in-Law. Well acted by all, good interplay.

Del piu sublime soglio: ARJ knew his Mozart, his segue from recit to singing is very natural (as is his phrasing). Gotta love the elasticity of his voice even at the ripe age of 57. Very good diction for a non-Italian.

Non ci pentiam: Annio tries, in spite of his hotblooded nature, to do the right thing. His girlfriend has a hard time understanding his brusqueness. HGM is all right, I just wish her voice was nicer.

Ah perdona il primo affetto: I hadn’t heard much of Kirchshlanger so far and that might’ve been a mistake. I like her light but smokey tone and she’s very committed. Her Annio is more serious but along the same knightly lines as ASvO’s Sesto which makes them more matched over the entire arc than is usually the case. Her and HGM mix rather well.

Tito : Publio : Servilia: Publio tries to interest Tito in secret police business but that goes against Tito’s ethos. He can’t be happier when Servilia interrupts. Nice accent on Servilia! Augusta! – with a soft inflection, rather than a grand one, on augusta. HGM again does rather well with her recit, her Servilia is no damsel in distress but will do what needs to be done if there’s no way out.

Ah se fosse intorno al trono: when I first heard ARJ in the Gardiner recording (which is still in the vault) I wasn’t so sure. But actually he’s got just the kind of voice Tito needs. He’s not quite as ecstatic as other Titi here but he’s an older, less starry-eyed Tito. What he projects is surprised delight at Servilia’s uprightness.

There is a reason Tito never gets old for me. Well, there are a few reasons. But wrestling with forgiveness is one of them, as is feeling touched when I encounter goodness.

A lot of times people don’t clap at Ah se fosse but the trusty Met audience made noise. It doesn’t always have to be vocal acrobatics, arranging the notes in such a way as to express something genuine does the trick.

Servilia : Vitellia: phew, close call there, says Servilia, but Vitellia is convinced what she overheard means something completely different. She puts on a fake face but Servilia knows better and – quite playfully – she doesn’t make it easy for her. I bet Servilia has always thought why does Sesto have to like this dreadful woman? Can’t stand her.

pre-Parto recit: Vitellia, in high grand diva mode, moans about Tito’s blindness when it comes to her person. She is deeply offended and isn’t playing anymore. She wants blood yesterday. Breathless Sesto shows up – presumably hoping to be the one to break the news about his sister’s new Imperial appointment to his soon very angry girlfriend. Too late! She knows and she doesn’t spare him.

She deliberately taunts him, by telling him she loved Tito and might love him again, then questioning his macho side and suggesting he lacks ambition. Heavy duty. Sesto can’t take it anymore and says he’s ready to slash Tito then of course catches himself, she laughs at him etc.

It’s well acted by both but I still think a bit of trimming would’ve made it more intense. Her taunting speech, for instance, goes on too long to warrant Sesto’s outburst. In real life he would’ve interrupted her at some point (I’d’ve done it right after she said she could possibly love Tito again 😉 ) instead of listening to all that abuse and then saying his bit. Otherwise he’d have had time to cool off and realise either that she was taunting him or that it was madness to do what she wanted him to do.

Parto: a variant of ASvO’s knightly romantic approach to Sesto (he’s chivalrous and he knows he’s good looking; teoretically no woman should be left unimpressed by his giuramenti. This might be why he’s taken on such a difficult one). I know she wore “Roman” rags but I see this Sesto sporting that Ariodante armour.

The first vorrai faros are super determined (what dagger, he’s picking up a mighty sword or a mace!). But then ritorna in pace is seductive and languid. Come on, Vitellia, you know I adore you. Show me some kindness in return. Later on the languidity moves to vorrai faro and ASvO pulls a beseeching guar-da-mi!, taken at slow and deliberat pace – the woman knows what she’s doing, especially as this comes right before the stretto. The contrast is optimal. Her alla beltas are swoony because, well, Sesto is again turned on, thinking after –this– she must reward me.

Very good stuff, replay worthy so you can get all the detail. The audience barely gave themselves time to breathe in the last note before mad applause. To think I was living in NYC at the time…

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…: Vitellia is dark with rage but sure Sesto will do what he promised with such great panache and conviction. Publio and Annio show up to surprise her, good acting from them.

Vengo…! Apetatte… Sesto!!!: fast and furious, suits Vaness well and good support from Annio and Publio.

Such a good piece! When I hear stuff like this (delivered like this) I wonder why people have looked down on Tito for so long. Yes, the DaPonte operas are genre defining but so is this. It’s all about concision, opera seria without the excess.

Act I finale

ASvO has this expansive way about her. She can pick up speed but she’s never harried. Sesto sounds very upset with himself but he never loses his grand style. Maestro keeps a good control on this finale. Everybody hits their cue on time and sounds solid, no missed opportunities.

Act II

Annio : Sesto: reliable Annio, Sesto only too ready to find a shoulder to cry on in his buddy – and they do sound like credible buddies.

Torna di Tito a lato: very earnest

Partir deggio…?: Sesto is confused for once but a very alarmed Vitellia shows up before he has time to get too murky. Rather surprised, Sesto tells her that he would rather die than betray her (remember, I’m your knight, Vitellia) but she’s not fooled. She knows he cares about Tito and would find it very hard to keep secrets from him. Publio is hot on her trail and knows all. Sesto tries to be sneaky (very good e… perche?) when he asks for his dagger but Publio has no time for verbal sparring. Lively Sesto gets annoyed with Vitellia (ingrata! addio…) but he also knows he still loves her and wants her to process this information:

Se al volto mai ti senti: Sesto makes this a serenade where he pours all his feelings. He’s not the usual ethereal dude of this melancholic trio, he’s flesh and blood, with a rose in his teeth under Vitellia’s window (open the window, Vitellia, and blow me a kiss. Have mercy, my love, it’s cold out here). Vitellia keeps her cool though the words say otherwise. The way ASvO says addio! is still like as if Vitellia’s “dad” caught them out past the curfew. Rammenta chi t’adora is stop acting hard to get, I know you want it too. Well, yes, they have a connection and it should come through here but this one is less ambiguous than most. Not quite as it should be but why not?

Ah grazie: it’s snowing outside, good timing for the segue in from ARJ, the choir playing a bit of catch-up with each other

Tito : Publio: well acted

Tardi s’avvede: a thick bass vocie, I like it; Cheek isn’t world shaking but no fool either

Tu fosti tradito: Kirchschlanger does darkening for “balls” reasons, nice attack, good trills, all around a good, earnest job; public ecstatic. It didn’t hurt that she must’ve been one of the best looking Annios 😉

Tito is angry: ARJ can act

Quello di Tito e il volto: Sesto is hyping himself for courage; ASvO is of course knightly, she and ARJ match well temperamentally and their Publio is no kindly minder either. Sesto loses a bit of heart halfway through due to feeling like shit, vacillates between embarrassment and his normal knightly nature. His Tito is very kind, the kindest perhaps – ARJ sings most of it softly, quite unusual but very effective.

Tito : Sesto: this Sesto wants to confess a lot more than other do and ASvO is very good at feverishness without overdoing it. ARJ continues his most kind approach. Later his anger is just enough to sound credible. Like I said, the man could act and so does ASvO. Their chemistry is right on the money.

Deh, per questo instante solo: Sesto bends a knee and starts his seduction. In this production, the relationship between Tito and Sesto is more of mentor and pupil – more so this particular pairing – where the age difference feels quite pronounced. This is the most believe me, Tito, I’m a good, upright chap Deh, per questo I have heard so far. Finally Sesto finds a way to confess without quite telling everything – and we know this one really wanted to.

ASvO’s Sesto is interesting in that he never lost the confidence in his own goodness. He’s perhaps the most balanced Sesto out there. He knows he’s good, he understands he has made a big mistake but he doesn’t overdramatise the situation. The Met audience has its own trademark type of clapping, you’ll know it when you hear it = more ecstatic than anywhere else. It feels almost like they’ve discovered a new great aria nobody’s heard of before 😉

Tito makes up his mind: Tito tears the death warrant; it sounds like he tramples on tarp

Se all’impero: Maestro is chipper (good decision, Tito! We were scared there for a moment). ARJ fubs the words a few times but everything else works well and is done with aplomb, sounding easier than in most cases. The public loved it (or him). I also like him a lot.

Servilia : Annio : Vitellia: Annio is serious but alarmed, piqued Servilia urges Vitellia to get over herself already, Vitellia keeping her cards close to her chest

S’altro che lagrime: HGM has mildly bugged me in the past. Here she sounds eye-poppingly old school, like a voice come straight from the ’50s. Her non gioveras are good if a bit thin and she’s appropriately soulful, which makes it a better experience than hearing her in the past has been but it’s still a bit odd.

Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori: Vaness’ voice has the cold edge we usually associate with Vitelliae. She’s occasionally a bit detached but mostly on, if always keeping “grand diva” in mind.

Maestro takes the rondo at leisurely pace, which imbues it with an air of “pleasant” regret. Astute idea. Vitellia is, of course, confident in her every decision, including that of self punishment. The agreeable basset horn reflects that self satisfaction. So this rendition is another display of Vitellia’s big stage scheming, rather than humble pie. Vaness carries that with the kind of gravitas I associate with the Met stage in general (big, in your face). Her range is good, her middle and the low notes are especially handsome, plump enough for Vitellia. The top is a bit acidic but that’s also Vitellia. Not as emotionally raw as other versions but a solid and fitting (to this production) one nevertheless. The Met public fights for its right to clapping and find a compromise with Levine in which they both do their thing.

Act II finale

As per stray, Che del ciel comes off as if sung by ecstatic Roman crowds rather than by a disciplined choir. It might’ve caught me at a good moment because I don’t mind it as much as I could’ve. Tito is grand but kindly and goes on a bit to some biting strings, Vitellia appears to have become acquainted with shame a teensy bit (though her confession still feels like an epilogue to the Grand Vitellia Show). Sesto is fervently regretful, Tito is pleased (very good, my son, very good), the others blend well. Eterni dei has some major turbulence (vibrato) on the soprano part but ARJ’s honest man tenor rings very pleasantly.

I knew I had a Tito ally in Levine and he doesn’t disappoint. His choices of soloists are apt and he works well with the rest. Thank you, stray, as though not quite a classic, it’s very satisfying, especially where ASvO is concerned (it’s always worth making time for her Sesto) 🙂

ps: any typos, I’ll come back to check tomorrow.

3 years later (opera, innit? is 3)

the cake of Roman goodness returns

the cake of Roman goodness returns

On 15 October, opera, innit? turned 3 years old. I actually forgot about it (this time of the year is always busy) until I read the WP congrats, by which time I was so tired, I was falling asleep in my cornflakes (it was way past the bedtime of a healthy 3 year old). It feels like I’ve been doing this since forever! When I started I didn’t have any plans beyond writing when I felt like, about what I felt like, for as long as I would feel like. 482 published posts later, I’d say the feeling has been rather intense 😉

The blog has brought about many fun unexpected adventures, so this year I thought I’d leave you all (who read, comment and have shared said adventures virtually or in real life) with Mozart’s little ode to friendship – which gives me the opportunity to combine Tito, mezzos and the memories of all those good times 😀

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.

2003 Salzburg Tito: a change of perspective

Sometimes you can’t write/talk about something because you don’t feel anything about it. Other times it’s because you feel too much. But we change.

When I first saw the 2003 Salzburg Tito I actually wrote (longhand!) extensively about it. It’s so gushy and intrinsicly linked to the period of intense change I was going through that it’s not fit for a blog. I waited for the emotion to cool down but during the next stage no words were good enough. I think I was trying for objectivity and when that didn’t quite work I left it be. It’s been well documented by other bloggers so I didn’t feel depriving the world of my positive opinion on it was such a big loss. At lon last I wrote about the 2006 revival (audio only), which was less commented on. Same production but not the same. Yet it offered me enough distance to say something.

Recently I noticed a change.

I still love it but, after hearing a lot of more recent versions, often with period orchestras, there’s no doubt it’s very heavy of sound (quite understandably so, with the Vienna Philharmonic of 13 years ago in the pit of the hangar-like Felsenreitschule driving everything). For a long time I could not hear that, enamoured as I have been of everything it contained. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that it’s heavy and slow; Tito needs a bit of gravitas; it makes sense with the venue setting and the production; the world was starting to change but it still had a solidity about it we might not be feeling anymore today. As a whole it’s got so much that is good and unique about it (those sweaty (with unease), partially painted pale green walls 😉 ) that it still feels as fresh as it did on day one. But the way things are going, the future great Sesto and Vitellia will sing a lot lighter. And, I venture to say, in a smaller venue.