Category Archives: audio only

Belcanto Tito (De Marchi/Academia Montis Regalis)

I headed over to Spotify to witness how Weigl, Mayr and De Marchi fiddled with Tito. It might not sound like much but it brings up the good ol’ write you own opera! adage. The new arias are in red.

Tito: Carlo Allemano
Vitellia: Nina Bernsteiner
Sesto: Kate Aldrich
Annio: Ann-Beth Solvang
Servilia: Dana Marbach
Publio: Marcell Bakonyi

Conductor: Alessandro De Marchi / Academia Montis Regalis

Overture: very speedy; details are very nicely emphasised by the lean sound but I could do with a more measured tempo

Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!:

Come ti piace imponi: I can see what Anna was saying about the interpolated ornaments… coooome tiiiii piaaaace. Ok, whatever. You know what ornamentation for the sake of it does to a piece – lowers the drama. Also since fa mille affetti is done as in the original we have a sort of stylistic disconnect for no particular reason as per these 21st century ears, at least.

Annio: Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!: we jump back to Sesto and Vitellia’s convo, ended by Vitellia’s verdict I want Tito dead before the sun goes down. I thought the whole point of Come ti piace imponi was to hammer home what she wants from Sesto and what he feels about it. Here Sesto has no time to lament his fate as

Annio barges in: what is the point of screwing with the very clear Mazzola edit? Nice tone for Annio. I actually like Vitellia’s as well. Sesto says his lines theatrically detached – o. virtu. and de nuuuullllaaa. 

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: not bad, I really like Bernsteiner’s tone and it’s nicely performed but I didn’t feel a lot of individuality in the interpretation. There are some early 1800s touches in the trills which you might need to get used to.

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: the BFFs moan about forever together and then launch into a very lyrical rendition of this pretty duettino. It’s the loveliest and most Mozartean thing this far, though I couldn’t quite tell our mezzos apart.

March/Sebate dei custodi: the drumroll was so long I thought it was another Spotify advert (too tame for a rock drum solo). The choir sounds small and thin in the low end but is tight and keeps up with the orchestra. It probably is adequate to the size of the orchestra (which I don’t think is big).

Publio and Annio talk about loot etc.: whoever thought the beginning didn’t make sense as it was thinks this is worth keeping. Publio is potato-mouthed, Tito declames well, Annio is about to pass out from admiration, the choir gives a cheer.

reprise of March with Tito and choir: thankfully no more drumroll. Belcanto alert! Tito’s part isn’t bad at all; it’s like something Argirio would sing in Tancredi. The choir falls over itself with admiration in the middle. LOLZ moment. I like Del piu sublime soglio but I’m ok with this replacement and how the march tune and the choir was woven in. Not a bad idea in this context though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it improves on the original. I don’t know if this is how it was back in 1804 or if De Marchi thought to make it more interactive with all the inserts of the choir and in the end Tito stating that he wants the BFFs to stay behind, but so far this is the best redone bit.

Tito and BFFs: Romantic moaning between Sesto and Tito over the Berenice business. I’ll give myself over to friendship – which to Tito means marrying his BFF’s sister. Quite the gay undercurrent in this heaving bosom moaning. Annio joins in with his own emoting.

Incolpar tu non dovrai: surprise Tito – Sesto duet this early! I thought we’d have this in act II. More gay undercurrent. Tito, if you kiss him now he might not return to Vitellia. It’s belcanto allright and moderately entertaining. Incorporates some of the lyrics of Del piu sublime soglio but the tune isn’t as good. Allemano and Aldrich work well together, though.

Annio : Servilia: the lovebirds moan, slightly more OTT than usual. The continuo is nicely done.

Ah, perdonna: they kept this one, no surprise here. I bet it’s been a hit since day one. You can definitely tell who’s who. Lovely tone Marbach, can’t wait for her S’altro che lagrime. The tempo is right here, quite delicately done. Once we’re back in Mozartland you can see how he’s a few notches above “the improvement” even with a few simple strokes. Best moment so far.

Tito : Publio: segues right in, very jarring after that lovey-dovey moment. Allemano does the Romantic Tito with much aplomb. Servilia is very efficient; just finished with the suave boyfriend and, without missing a beat, she’s ready to talk shop with Tito.

“improved” Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: only not really. The original tune was great so why screw with it? This isn’t better writing by any stretch of imagination, though it was probably very fashionable in its day (reminds me of Paisiello). Also the bassoon is replaced with a reoccurring short oboe tune (also likely a trendy touch for the the first decade of the 1800s), which is nice enough (best part) but sort of too casual for the mood of this improvement.

Generally I have the feeling these additions don’t have the tight focus of Mozart’s pieces (my complaint with Paisiello’s Il barbiere: too verbose for its own good) but I think that was the main issue with those changing trends, until the advent of Rossini (and even in his case…). The upshot is Allemano would be (is already?) really good in the Paisiello/Cimarosa repertoire. He does get lots of deserved applause (applause! none until this bit and they threw me when they barged in).

Servilia : Vitellia : Sesto: Vitellia could be more vicious, Servilia ok (more focus in the recit would’ve strengthened the moment) but the cello continuo features nicely. Later (ancora mi schernisce!) Vitellia is more grand than dramatic, though she too gets a din-din-din-deeeen cello accompaniment that was good in this context. Sesto slumps in sort of lalala – this one isn’t very alert – furious Vitellia jumps on him.

+ pre-Parto argument: the recit is pretty much the one we know and love and it’s rather well acted. Sesto holds his own; questo acciaro nel sen di Tito…! was acted all right but the pause after it seemed a bit too long. Bernsteiner is the better actress. Her Vitellia is impatient and most likely physically pushed Sesto into Parto.

Parto: the intro is played like a death sentence. Someone thought it’d be a good idea to add trills to each of the twin partos. We still have the clarinet line (not fudged with and nice job the player) and the general tune is the same (whew). Trills abundant, added seemingly at random. Listen, I could live with messing with Tito’s arias, but Parto? This is the meat and potatoes of Tito. At least the stretto is the same, coloraura/clarinet and all. If anything, Aldrich is a trooper and does a good job with all this messing around (I’m not a fan of her tone and her dramatic skills aren’t something I’d write home about).

But her coloratura work surprised me with its consistency and fluency, especially if this was live. I wouldn’t have thought she had it in her any longer (I heard her Orsini long ago and I liked it quite a bit but nothing since, especially her Amneris, although the size/thickness of her voice points that way). The public really liked it and I bet you it was all because De Marchi was wise enough to keep the ending as we know and love.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: Bernsteiner is rather lugubrious, though her Cesare…? doesn’t have the dramatic finesse some inflect it with.

Vengo…! Aspetatte…! Sesto…!: her chops/tone/fullness come in handy for this one. She’s exquisite here and her Vengo! shouts have just the amount of hysteria needed. Her top Ds have a gorgeous full ring I must add. The tempo is very good.

Act I finale

Oh, dei…/Deh, conservate…: De Marchi drives this all sharp edges brisk. The music has not been improved. Aldrich isn’t bad; in fact I’d say she does all the right things but somehow I can’t get too enthusiastic no matter what she does. Annio’s entrance isn’t quite as contrasting as it usually is.

The drama cranks up in the string section as soon as Servilia comes in. I think it’s a bit of a tall order to go all Romantic with a Baroque-sized orchestra. But what do I know, the size of the orchestra couldn’t have changed so much between 1791 and 1804? Aldrich all of a sudden pulls out some impressive chest notes for rinserra un traditor. Hey, I liked that! Not many mezzos do it though they definitely should if they can reach down. The choir still sounds too thin for this very dramatic moment. The brass does what it can but the whole still feels a bit deflated.

Act II

TBC tomorrow or later this week sorry, been very busy this month; currently packing up to move house; I only updated this today because I wanted to listen to something whilst construction workers drilled, puffed and played bad pop put up scaffolding 2m away from my window.

What happens up to Se al volto isn’t particularly anything to write home about. The recits veer on the stilted side and Solvang’s voice seems heavy for Torna di Tito a lato.

Se al volto mai ti senti: the trio came out very well, with interesting little touches from the strings and from Vitellia herself, who varied her o dio!s enough to show vulnerability and generally paid clever attention to details. Bernsteiner full tone shone throghout. Aldrich’s Sesto had a couple of surprisingly neat trills. Expressively conducted, De Marchi handled its halting nature with sensitivity via the intelligent use of rubato.

Ah grazie si rendano: nice introspective start, the choir isn’t bad, though perhaps a bit too reined in. Allemano milks his darkish sound in a way I haven’t heard since Kaufmann’s Tito. He sounds gently sorrowful.

Publio : Tito: the cello continuo is a bit annoying (very cutting). Publio is of the potato-mouthed kind, though not a bad actor. Tito continues his belcanto-style declamation which in this context is appropriate.

Tardi s’avvede: tardi s’avvide d’un traditmentu is how Bakonyi puts it. Publio sounds hush-hush (with a second tardi that is very nicely caressed), which is a good idea and I’m surprised we haven’t heard it more often, as the aria is an aside. De Marchi makes it both very bouncy and quiet in mood and resists the temptation to push it farther/bigger than the material allows. It’s nicely contained and Bakonyi does a very good job fitting in.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is eager for the rumours about Sesto to be proven wrong. Annio sounds courageous enough. Publio is one of the more objective ones. Tito is upset but not overboard.

Tu fosti tradito: poor Annio, denied.

Tito’s anguished recit: the strings are cutting and to the point, yet retaining warmth of sound. Allemano is still belcanto, expressively paced and with beautiful diction and nice little pps. It’s a voice you can listen to for quite a while.

Non tradirmi in quest’instante: the oboe has a lot to do in this half-incarnation. It’s of its time but I liked the nice little tune. This gently dolorous aria sounds like a good 19th century pastiche of Mozart. It even has a cabaletta that employs the choir and reminds me a bit of Non più andrai. By now you’d think I’d be expecting the choir and the cabaletta but it’s so unmozartean I’m always thrown. Though it shows how those martial interventions one merely played with in Mozart’s days developed later.

I do enjoy the choir’s interventions and honestly, I’d’ve liked a full belcanto version of Tito (I know there is at least one out there), a bit more than this weird concoction of Mozart and proto-Rossini. This might be a good moment to recommend Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia (1801), which is his belcanto take on Ariodante (if this Tito whetted anyone’s appetite for old fashioned themes for the early 1800s – Mayr also wrote a Tamerlano, Adriano in Siria, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and a Demetrio – among other classic themes – as well as comedies on contemporary libretti).

Allemano gets a lot of applause and I’m thrown again, as some moments are so quietly received (no coughing either) that I keep forgetting this was live.

Tito : Publio: Non tradirmi turned out quite on the gay side, though perhaps they took the mood differently back then (reminds me of how girlyshly Werther’s letter writing reads in The Sorrows…). Now Tito goes on moaning where’s Sesto? Why is he not coming? which adds to the gayness.

Quello di Tito e il volto: back to Mozart. Juxtaposing the two keeps showing just how exquisite Mozart’s writing is. No matter how much I enjoyed Non tradirmi, this is more complex emotionally. De Marchi keeps it light and brisk and his team of singers is very well drilled. Vocally Aldrich is not bad at all here, though I wouldn’t say she shows a spellbinding personality.

more to come when I have some time

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.

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.

Harnoncourt lives on

It’s been 6 months now since the trickster has left us. In case you haven’t come across it, here’s a great BBC3 interview with Harnoncourt from 2012. It gives you a very rounded idea about him as an artist (and person).

One of the things he touches on that has given me food for thought is how a work of art has a life of its own, it’s not bound by its physical barriers. Its identity as a dialogue between the artist and his/her audience is more important. As such it changes as the audience changes. He postulates that Die Zauberflote of today is not the same as Die Zauberflote of 1791.

It was interesting how on the one hand he wanted us to forget 19th century concepts of listening to music written before that time whilst at the same time acknowledging that we as 21st century audiences have accumulated that experience – all that has come after 1800 – and thus can’t receive art quite as people did in the 1700s. Sounds like a bit of a contradiction.

Though what he probably means is that we can’t roll our eyes at 18th century opera seria for being written according to a set formula of recit/aria/recit but rather take it on its own merits.

He also says that the greatest works of art from the past are always relevant. Of course, they define civilisations. This is more evident today when there’s a lot of anguish and rethinking in regards to European Civilisation. There is a good possibility that in the not so distant future “the Western” way of thinking won’t be the default view of the globalised world. What then? It’s quite disconcerting as a European to imagine this. Will Mozart and Monteverdi be encapsuled as common world heritage in the same way cave paintings of Summerian or Egyptian art was, or will they be forgotten?

Tito and friends (Barbican, 22 February 2012)

As far as I know this early 2012 performance was the last time Tito was done in London and someone had the generosity to record it for all of us Titoheads. Because we’ve had it twice in 2014 in concert form but I don’t think bootlegs exist.

Tito, Vitellia and Sesto (via youtube)

Tito: Michael Schade
Vitelia: Malin Hartelius
Sesto: Alice Coote
Annio: Christina Daletska
Servillia: Rosa Feola
Publio: Brindley Sheratt
Conductor: Louis Langrée | Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and Deutscher Kammerchor

Alice Coote stepped in for Garanca (lucky me!). A bit of digging showed Coote has sung Sesto before. It makes sense since her voice fits this role very well. I also think her unique touch for tragedy is very interesting for Sesto. So why, oh why isn’t ROH bringing Tito back to the stage when we’ve got such an excellent Sesto locally? Answer: because Glyndebourne’s snagged her for Vitellia 😀

Hartelius has made good impressions in the past and I’m always game for a new Vitellia. Further, upon a (2 year old) convo with RnR, I thought I should expand my Vitellia taste. Schade is Mr. Tito. It’s always good to hear him in this role. He plays Tito pretty much the same way he did in the Salzburg DVD which is a-ok by me.

Overture: very muscular, mi piace, such nice contrast with the slow bit, which comes off very delicate. I also like that the bootlegger takes a deep breath just before the orchestra starts.

Act I

Ma che, sempre l’istesso…: Hartelius is annoyed although not OTT. Her “creamy” tone is very fetching. She and Coote make a more mature couple than usual. Interesting angle, maybe insidiously sinister? – in the sense that proper adults should know better.

Come ti piace imponi: these two match very well, they’ve got a similar kind of timbre, which makes them sound “couple-y”. It comes off very introverted (conspiratorial), rather unusual, with a unique allure. The descending lines in the orchestra were clearly emphasised.

Annio’s news: girly Annio here. Daletska sounds very serious, even annoyed at Vitellia’s sarcastic remark. Hartelius doesn’t sound that sarcastic, rather upset with Tito.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: mmmm, sexy lascia sospetti… tuooooooi. Hartelius has the right idea (and the right voice) even the second time when she revisits it a bit differently. It’s one of those slow and swinging ones, just right for big band orchestra treatment 😉

Little bro Annio reminds Sesto why he’s really here: he and Servilia are ready to settle down. Sesto sounds very honest.

Deh, prendi…: barcarolle ahoy. Nice job. They blended so well I didn’t know who was who. Someone in the audience really liked it and clapped with one hand.

March/Serbate dei custodi: grand but bouncy, as it should be. I like Langrée’s style. The choir is well drilled, they’re pleased with Tito. Neat harpsi arpeggio at the end seguing into Tito’s recit.

Let’s take a moment and see what the choir has to say in this opera:

  1. Yay, Tito is grand! (Serbate dei custodi)
  2. Oh, no, they killed Tito! (Act I finale)
  3. Whew, they didn’t kill Tito! (Ah grazie se rendano)
  4. OMG, Tito is so merciful! We’re not worthy. (Act II finale)

Nicely balanced structure, n’est-ce pas?

Tito & all on how the loot should be used: Schade Vespasiano is benevolent but clearly in charge. He sounds a bit older but the tone is still beautiful. Publio sounds manly. Sesto tries to breach the subject in halting tones. Tito covers well. Sesto is really stricken by the news. What a good friend, eh. But wait, Annio outdoes him. He jumps in front of Tito and praises Servilia. Tito is pleased. The day might end in happiness, he thinks.

Del piu sublime soglio: really nice segue by Schade from the recit to “del”. He was born to sing this, was he not? Buttah. Pretty support from the orchestra.

Annio is gutted. I like Daletska’s recit skills. She’s not OTT but you get Annio’s torment.

Ah, perdona al primo affetto: Annio and Servilia mesh as well, not bad at all. As a result, I think Annio, Servilia and Sesto should sing a trio. Why isn’t there one?

Tito and Publio: leave me alone with this treason crap, buddy, says Tito. He does it along the Salzburg lines, only now he sounds more congenial. Servilia shows up, Tito gets all giddy. Servilia soulfully confesses. OMG, you rock so hard! says Tito. Someone close to the taper chuckled at Schade’s antics, whatever they were.

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: you know how it is when you’ve done something inside out. Schade’s playing with this favourite aria or mine. I couldn’t ask for anything more; I’m just sitting here with a big grin on my face, thinking, maaaaan, I need to see this man in the concert hall. Why haven’t I yet!? And I just realised the intorno al trono tongue twister.

Vitellia sounds dark and menacing, all contained hatred, every word is a barb. Interesting. Feola’s Servilia dispatches the retort dryly. Hartelius continues with the barely suppressed displeasure. Whoever was laughing earlier chuckles at Vitellia’s irrational anger at Sesto. I mean s/he’s having a ball. I know what you mean. Vitellia sort of explodes but not really:

Vitellia: Is the Campidoglio in ashes? Is Tito dead?
Sesto: I’ve done nothing yet.
Vitellia: NOTHING???

Sesto:
Vitellia: %&%(&(90898^&^%&$$%
Sesto: Didn’t you say…?
Vitellia: Revenge! NOW!

I love how Vitellia smoothly makes it sound like her earlier raving was perfectly logical. Hartelius does a great job at “shaking” Sesto. It’s not exactly a sexy seduction but a powerful one nonetheless. The way she says corri, mi vendica e son tua sounds like she definitely means it and it will be the kind that involves knee boots and a riding crop.

Parto: AC’s Sesto sounds in awe of his Vitellia. The partos are like “whoa! she really said she’d be mine if I did it!”. Maestro goes slow on it but I don’t mind at all. Partos should be slow-ish, it takes the man a while to settle his pros and cons. Unsually playful clarinet, like the wheels turning in Sesto’s mind but also like mocking him. Maybe not as elastic as others but I liked the feel of it. It had character and that’s harder to find than canary singing. Judging by the enthusiastic applause and the shouting, the Barbican public agreed with me.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…: Vitellia is darkly pleased. Publio and Annio seem to have been looking for her everywhere (clearly the sedition talk was being had in a dark corner somewhere). Tito has summoned you, says Annio. Vitellia’s all taken aback: Tito (of all people)???? The same one who thinks your sister’s the dog’s bollocks? Publio spells it out for her in a grand voice and Annio underlines it in plain (and very.clearly.enunciated) English Italian. The bootlegger or one of the neighbours chuckles loudly. People always laugh here but it is the one hilarious moment in the opera.

Vengo… Aspetatte… Sesto: the hilarity continues with this trio: (Vitellia) let’s go! No, wait! Where’s Sesto? Oh dear me, I just sent him to off my new fiance! (Publio and Annio) how cute, marital announcements always have a confusing effect on women! Maestro puts the pedal to the medal and the string section ends up sounding like the knife sharpening squad (in a good way). I love a very serious or plum sounding Vitellia like Hartelius at this moment, because she gets to sing ohime! and it sounds incongruous. The other two give her very good support at this high speed. If you notice, this trio mirrors the ending of the overture, which basically goes up/down/up/down/up/down. I guess if you speed it up too much it turns into the Benny Hill tune 😉

Act I finale:

Sesto is a basket case from the getgo (Maestro sets the scene extra anxious for him). I heard Coote chewed major scenery as Dejanira (this Spring? last Spring? I know it was some year recently in March). Her Sesto would probably set fire to all 7 hills plus the suburbs. I mean if he managed to strike the match; by the way he’s going, he’d have a hard time not dropping all the matches on the floor first 😉 Suffice to say, he’s all over the shop. But who wouldn’t be, if they had to choose between stabbing their BFF dead and never getting nookie ever again with the most high maintenance woman in Rome? No wonder Act II normally starts with Sesto considering the merits of retiring to a cottage in the countryside and raising goats (goats apparently are man’s other best friend beside dogs). Maybe the sequel sees him as a goatheard meet Tito, the farmer. Vezzoso pastorello, eh? 😉

But until then Sesto wrestles with the fact that not only he can’t be a good friend but he can’t quite bring himself to do what Vitellia has made him swear to do. Nonetheless, he plows through with the wretched plan. Someone needs to tell him to lighten up and abort plans that just ain’t working. That someone isn’t Annio. When Annio comes in and says I don’t quite get what Sesto’s trying to say you really believe him. Daletska sounds so earnest! He’s not one for metaphors, and certainly not a suspicious type, but even he feels some doubts raising.

There’s a screechy chord from the strings that just spells creepy… and then the orchestra gets together to as the hammer of doom, when Servilia reveals that something’s not quite right about this fire. I have to admit Mozart builds up the frenzy quite nicely, as the orchestra is doubled by piercing cries from the chorus (good idea just having them reduced to onomatopeia), with our heroes mincing about like puny humans. It’s also nice how everything just slows down as Sesto returns. He’s obviously so confused (and perhaps there’s smoke everywhere), that even as he says he’s trying to hide he’s run right back to his friends. Vitellia doesn’t lose her head: what’s up with Tito? OMG, says Sesto (he probably is happy to confess the horrid circumstance that has changed his life), I saw his soul departing his body… Everybody’s like …!!! Who could have possibly done this?! Clearly this lot have not been raised on Crime TV, where family and friends are always the prime suspects. A most despicable man, nature itself shudders to think of him, it was… – is what Sesto is happy to supply. Shh! Shh, enough with the details before we get you legal counsel, Vitellia wisely suggests. But it’s ok, our chorus has stopped listening after the bit about the soul leaving the body. Except Publio but we’re not supposed to know that yet.

Maestro has organised this one very well, it’s captivating and clear. It’s always interesting to hear the act dissipate amids the pulsating hammers of doom + cries of tradimento (it’s Rome, legal matters will come into dicsussion).

Act II

Annio : Sesto: in these case, these two are very young in spirit. Annio well intentioned, anxious and naive (but also resourceful) and Sesto, too impulsive not to fall for Vitellia’s calculated charms.

Torna di Tito a lato: perhaps a bit over-enunciated but Daletska knows which ones of her notes sound beautiful and uses them. This is an aria which benefits from being sung beautifully.

Partir deggio, o restar…?: Vitellia must’ve been hiding behind a pillar because Sesto doesn’t even have time for vacillation. She tells him in a matter of fact way that he has to make himself scarce. Sesto makes it a point – in a voice half sad, half outraged – that he would never betray her.

Publio must’ve hidden behind the other pillar, because he sneaks up on them and he and Sesto don’t have the back and forth about the sword. He just says give it up, I know you did it. Vitellia sounds tired in o, colpo fatale…! Perhaps she herself is relieved that she didn’t have to live with the fear of being discovered. Sesto’s focus remains on Vitellia and in this instance it sounds like he’s blaming her for talking too loudly.

Se al volto mai ti senti: the oboe seems a bit dry but it might’ve been the acoustics. This sets the tone for the least ethereal Se al volto… I can remember. All three have this earthy quality to their voices which makes Vitellia remorseful in a practical manner (as if saying ok, perhaps I could’ve used Sesto in a way that didn’t run the risk of his demise), Sesto seems determined to look fate squarely in the eyes and Publio is a by the books type. Hartelius gives us a crisp, vivid, almost touching first che crudelta! complete with “thoughtful” descending trill and expert ppp on -ta. Sheratt makes the most of his “head shake” lines. As the tempo speeds up for the conclusion, Hartelius reprises that beautiful ppp (Vitellia’s starting to get a glimpse of the larger picture) and Sesto gets more reproachful – especially on the last che crudelta, which Coote dominates.

Ah grazie se rendano: starts quite hesitantly. The choir ain’t bad at all, nice balance between the male and female voices. When Schade came in I got this image of his Tito dancing by himself at his own birthday party. Don’t ask. Just after Tito finishes his lines there is this long note on the flute/oboe that here comes off more dissonant than before and it really fits the not quite mood.

Publio : Tito: Tito of course can’t believe that his Sesto could betray him. Schade uses his most useful sound to make Tito extra trusting. Publio sounds close to the limit of his patience in non han tutti il cor di Tito.

Tardi s’avvede: very good, strong, good straight-up Publio. Sheratt uses a lot of colour, seemingly determined to leave an impression. He finds the right balance of colour/tone/chutzpah relative to the size of the aria and it works.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito sounds like he’s cheering himself up (remember him dancing with himself earlier?) that Sesto can’t possibly be that bad in spite of Publio’s sung insinuation of treason. Annio seems scared shitless but also appears to think that speaking the bitter truth in a chipper manner might actually make it less awful. Publio underlines in a thundering voice: WHAT DID I TELL YOU, BOSS? – SESTO IS GUILTY! Tito is like : – O Annio tries to get his attention, hoping for mediation. Schade’s Tito is on the brink of tears when he replies leave me alone, Annio! Then he gets all irate and throws something at Publio which makes Annio freeze. But he (Annio) recovers and goes on. What a good friend, can I have his number?

Tu fosti tradito: remember how I said (twice) Daletska makes the effort to enunciate? An almost lost skill nowadays. Maybe that’s why she sounds a bit OTT with it. But the way she says morrrrte is butter. Never has it sounded so allur(rrr)ing. Also it kinda works with the moment, as if to illustrate how much guts it takes to plead with Tito when in this irate state. In the end it’s kinda great. There’s dynamic variation, it’s not screechy and it is impassionate. Plus all the words are clear and even though they sound more like a Central European impression of Italian, there is beauty in those sounds.

Tito is conflicted: and Schade is very musical. It segues smoothly into

Quello di Tito e il volto: it’s not usually that Publio has the biggest voice but in this case Sheratt towers over the others volume-wise. Coote’s Sesto is suddenly apprehensive. Very wistful addio…! But she drives the trio well, muscularly rising over the other two’s né gli occhi ardisce alzar. Schade’s Tito, as usual, is annoyed. The trio is quite intense, finishes before you realise.

Tito : Sesto: friendly, understanding Tito, even though he is appalled by what appears to be the truth. Schade’s Tito traditionally has a short fuse. It’s now Sesto who sounds like a self-flagellating lover (it’s not you, it’s me). Tito seems to kinda like this (just tell me you love me and I’ll forgive it all – but of course Sesto can’t say yes). He (Sesto) begs for a last kiss as if the realisation dawns on him that this is truly the end (as in, he will die). Up until now he seemed more preoccupied with gathering his courage and holding his own in front of Tito.

Deh, per questo instante solo: Coote starts this in a very sombre mood. It’s driven more by the need to make a favourable impression on Tito than by a focus on the good old days. Generally her Sesto is built on a realistic sense of duty and here a pressing need to redeem his name. The way she says se vedessi questo cor suggests more stark admission of guilt than a desire to save his arse. This Sesto is thus characterised before everything by his sense of honourability. Coote’s final di dolor x2 hammers home his conviction that he is at fault and that he doesn’t think he deserves to be pardoned. It’s one of the most restrained and unsentimental versions.

Tito makes up his mind: Tito still seems hurt but greatly appreciative of his BFF’s courage to face up to his mistake. He knows the law would be merciless but the way he says Sesto is reo… Sesto mora! is very detached. It’s the nature of management to have to uphold rules that one does not believe in. But what of rules that go against one’s own sense of self? Sometimes I think that more than a generous ruler Tito is the symbol of a corrupt ruler – my friends above all! To be fair, Mestastasio has taken care to have him pardon random dissenters in Act I. Anyway, this is not the way Tito sees it: he’s all about another opportunity to parade his generosity and Schade is always good at expressing this abstract side of him.

Se all’impero: behold, my generosity! The sheer pomposity of that abstractness infuses Schade’s take. He launches into it all guns blazing, oozing earnest amazement in his own goodness. Then he uses his arsenal of dynamics to go from f to ppp with rubato on top to underline the most virtuous parts of his argument. The ardent, even nervous tackle on the coloratura mirrors that amazement.

Vitellia : Servilia : Annio: we jump over Vitellia’s trying to ferret info out of Publio and go straight to her recit with Sesto’s people. Vitellia sounds panicked, the others anxious to get her to intercede for Sesto. Hartelius sounds grand on Annio! Non son’ Augusta ancor…! The subtext is but I really, really hope I’m wrong so, please, for the love of all that is holy, tell me so. He indulges her. She is so sure of the inevitability of getting what’s rightfully hers that she isn’t even surprised. Once again the practical one, she muses that Sesto must’ve kept his promise to her. Somewhere in middle thought she finally sees him for the good guy he is, which up to now was only useful to her. Now it’s someobody actually cares about me enough to go against not only his own views and interest but against the love someone else has for him. That’s a pretty strong realisation for anyone to have (though, frankly, people in that position are usually selfish enough to never reach it).

A bit OT, the other day I was reading about limerence, something I’d never heard of before. If you don’t know what it is, here’s the jist: infatuation is bad for you. Reading about it invalidates love poetry and romcoms down the ages but avoiding it 1 makes practical sense. Also it makes me wonder that there are indeed people out there who have never felt the “ravages” love/infatuation can wreak on you. Though it is perfectly sensible to wish for infatuation never to visit you, it also seems like something is lost, like life would be less lively without its occasional tornadoes. Maybe we’re just conditioned that way.

In any case, Sesto seems an excellent example of the debilitating effect of extreme limerence. He’s in love and that takes him from ecstasy to the pits of hell in a manner that seems unhinged. His sobre moments suggest he’s indeed not lacking judgment in other areas of his life.

But back to Vitellia: her warming up to the realisation that Sesto loves her is a sign she’s not a complete narcissist, just a woman up her own arse. Now she seems mortified at having lost the one person who would do everything for her. The way Hartelius does it seems more genuine than usual.

S’altro che lagrime: not bad at all, in fact rather great. Can’t fault it at all.

Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori: Maestro drives an energetic, rather rigorous tempo that translates into an unsentimental feel for the recit. Hartelius’ Vitellia is strong enough to take stock of her own shortcomings. There’s sentiment when she pronounces Sesto’s name. His love for her is all encompassing but his (subconscious) goodness goes beyond it, hence his failure. She knows now that in essence he did do her bidding, even if practically he couldn’t carry it out. So how is she going to respond to that proof of love? She realises that she won’t be able to cast him aside as useless to her now that she’s got what she wanted. So on one hand Sesto couldn’t physically be a murder and on the other she herself can’t walk over his dead body and pretend it doesn’t mean anything to her. Her addio in speranze… addio! is said in a strangled way. It’s hard for her to give her hopes up but she does nonetheless. This Vitellia is not the same Vitellia of Come ti piace, imponi. She sees now that her initial sense of identity was unrealistic, most likely driven by outside pressures.

Hartelius sings the rondo proper in a way that suggests quiet realisation rather than impassioned repentance. Her voice has the noblesse suitable to Vitellia’s upbringing and suggests a level of self-awareness for our heroine that precludes self aggrandizing or cheap drama. Where Naglestad’s Vitellia has to tackle the consequences of her own cynical irrestibility and Roschmann’s is faced with the imperative necessity of dousing her firey self interest, this one’s meltdown is along the lines of admitting fair enough, I tried being smart and it didn’t work. Perhaps my whole approach to life was wrong. And the tragedy is, it’s now that I realise I was wrong when everybody is going to think I’m a bitch. The basset horn goes very gentle on her (sweet tone! sweet descrescendo!), because it agrees she’s a more congenial Vitellia after all. That creamy tone I mentioned in Come ti piace, imponi makes this a very alluring rendition. Hartelius also places the low G where she should.

Act II finale

Non piu di fiori segues right into the finale, which is done in the dome-like way, with quite a strong Baroque whiff. Tito tries to sound pissed off but we know he’s only doing this to set up the grand surprise of his generosity. You know he’s been choreographing this ever since he sent Publio to get Sesto to the arena. Vitellia sounds like she kinda likes confessing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she found it easier to do this with an audience than in private. More chuckling from the audience as Tito is wondering just how many self-confessed traitors would spring up today. But it’s working nicely for him. He pretty much flings freedom at all rather than offering it on a velvet cushion. Sesto sounds like he can’t quite believe his ears and swears he’ll repent forever. Maybe he’ll set up a charity. Tito strokes his scruff and says good boy.

But even more importantly we have a very good Eterni dei. The choir has done a sterling job throughout, but then one can trust a German choir to be solid and keep up with the orchestra and soloists. The male and female sides are very well balanced (yes, I said it before but it bears repeating, especially in the context of Eterni dei).

This is a very good example of teamwork in opera, so thank you Maestro for energising your people and keeping a very strong balance among the parts of the whole. Everybody worked hard to the best of their seizable abilities, which, for a concert version is fantastic (but then, in spite of its acoustics, the Barbican has seen some very strong concert versions over the years). I would recommend it to fans of the singers and of Tito, it’s a very solid modern-sounding addition to the Tito catalogue.


  1. it appears you can’t avoid it or wish for it if you’re not naturally predisposed to it. 

Thursday’s Something Else on Monday (Paisiello)

tseIs this a comedy?

I actually listened to most of Nina, o sia La pazza per amore last Wednesday but then real life kept intruding. Anyway, it’s of its time and if you like that time chances are good you will like it. It’s sung by Bartoli, JK (you know you always wanted to hear him supported by… bagpipes) and Laszlo Polgar = the singing is good. By that and by their good quality choir you can also tell it’s from Zurich. That the recits are spoken (to good effect) is another sure sign. In fact there are recits but there is also spoken dialogue in the libretto.

Those of us who enjoy those knighly Tancredi/Ginevra di Scozia choruses have something else to rejoice by. They were also of this time (1789).

Those of us who find Paisiello occasionally ponderous have to sit through a few of Nina’s very (very) long ariosos, one of which reminds me of Sesto’s lament at the end of act I of Tito (and since Bartoli’s Sesto happened within memory it feels just like that – except Nina isn’t about to stab anyone, she’s merely hyperventilating over Lindoro (there’s always a Lindoro in Italian buffa)). Upon further investigation this turns out to be… an interpolated Mozart aria. As you do.

The ariosos are actually rather interesting but did I mention long? Ok, Nina has a point, because the entire opera is based on her denial of the fact that Lindoro is, in fact, dead. These days we wouldn’t be laughing at situations like these, so the question is, is this really a comedy in 2016?

…only Lindoro is not dead after all. Yes, dear reader, we’re meant to (?) laugh at this poor woman’s breakdown only to find out that her lover, whom she (thought she?) saw being killed, is alive after all. Relieved laughter ensues. But we get to hear a lyric singer get all dramatic within their fach’s comfortable limitations so not all is lost.

Röschmann’s Tito (Salzburg, 2006)

Some things are so good they need a reprise.

Or do they?

Just in case anyone is wondering, I’m talking about a performance from the 2006 revival of Kusej’s now classic Salzburg production of La clemenza di Tito, the production that sealed yours truly’s interest in opera in general.

This is a French radio broadcast of (mostly) very good soound (you feel like you’re in Vitellia’s cleavage) and it starts with the announcer calling Michael Schade “Shed”. Is he right? I always pronounce it the German way but this is the first time I’ve heard someone actually say it. Then again I also pronounce Kurzak with a zs.

 

carparktito2006

 

Tito: Michael Schade
Vitellia: Dorothea Roschmann
Sesto: Vesselina Kasarova
Annio: Malena Ernman
Servilia: Aleksandra Kurzak
Publio: Luca Pisaroni
Conductor: Nicolaus Harnoncourt | Choir and Orchestra of Vienna Philarmonic, 16/08/06 Felsenreitschule/Salzburger Festspiele

There’s a funny thing going on with these CDs, namely surprise skipping. Right after Ma che, sempre l’istesso it ffwded itself straight to Parto (track 15). Talk about artificial intelligence – but it underestimates my patience. Dear CD, with this opera – and this cast especially – I can proceed in disciplined fashion.

But since we’re here, is track 15 any good? Of course, captain, of course it is. Sensei VK, Master of Parto, is in the dojo with I imagine the same Clarinet Blackbelt from 3 years before. Replay button at the ready. This Sesto seems a bit more vulnerable than the 2003 one, perhaps hiding a substance addiction. He’s not exactly ecstatic in the coda. Those people who couldn’t see this production in 2003 clap hard this time.

Anyway, the main point: Roschmann is even better here than in 2003. Everything one likes about her voice is here, from the first moment she opens her mouth to the end. Just wow. That this came shortly after her singing the Countess at the same festival is badarse. (If we go by the date on the CD this was first night, I heard things got a bit pearshaped by the end of the run).  fun with the construction site of doom

Tito sans mezzos (Nancy, May 2014)

This is a countertenor happy Tito, which is anathema dangerous territory for mezzo lovers. Luckily (for me) what we’ve got here is two countertenors I rate very highly. But will it float?

titonancyTito: Bernard Richter
Vitellia: Sabina Cvilak
Sesto: Franco Fagioli
Annio: Yuriy Mynenko
Servilia: Bernada Bobro
Publio: Miklós Sebestyén
Conductor: Kazem Abdullah | Opera National de Lorraine
Director: John Fuljames | co-production Opera North/Opera National de Lorraine

Overture: never heard of Mr Abdullah before but I’ve no objections to his tackling of the overture. It’s brisk, perhaps unoriginal but modern sounding at least.

Ma che, sempre l’istesso: I was curious to see how a man would deal with Sesto’s uneasy diplomacy. Quite surprisingly (or not?1) he does very similar in spirit to how mezzos do it. Sesto comes off as far from macho and a bit embarrassed. Vitellia is cold and nagging but not too much; garden variety domineering.

Come ti piace imponi: Sesto gets rather sexy on tutto faro per te, I like that. Franco has an interesting manner of singing certain important words in a brisk, urgent manner where others might choose a slower take. In this case it’s m’accende and it works. He goes slower and sexier on alla mia fe and that works too. His Vitellia isn’t matching him, though, which underlines their disconnect. Due to the positioning of the bootlegger or because the orchestra was loud, there is a volume contest going on between the voices and the strings. As a result, the oppressive downward arpeggios in the low strings behind fa mille affetti insieme come off more poignant than usual. I like them, so thank you, bootlegger (or fate).

Annio : Vitellia : Sesto: Annio is enthusiastic as usual, Vitellia full of irony, Sesto repressed.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: Maestro could’ve used more rubato. Sometimes it feels too quick. Vitellia is sure of herself – here, rock solid in her confidence – but she could play a little more with Sesto’s feelings. Cvilak has a good, full middle for Vitellia. It gets a bit muddy in the lower register. She tries for playfulness but her voice isn’t the most colourful/elastic. The supporting strings sound a bit dry. Some people’s attention might’ve wondered as the appluse starts tentatively then grows a bit. It’s like remembering Vitellia is pretty important, you know?

Annio : Sesto: Annio: Anyway, let’s become brothers… in law! Sesto: Let’s! Screw Vitellia.

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: what with two countertenors close in tone, Annio and Sesto sound a bit too similar. I understand there is a camp that wants to replace every mezzo in every trouser role (Rossini included) with countertenors, even when the roles have been written for women. I’m not in that camp. Trouser roles are cool, some of the plummiest parts that showcase the versatile beauty of the mezzo voice and that lush quality that no other fach has. Two countertenors in this opera, even two I like a lot, is starting to feel like overkill. [ / rant over ].

But since I want to position myself at least halfway on the road to objectivity, they sound rather nice in this waltziest of duettinos.

March/Serbate dei custodi: very rhythmical/baroque take on the march, which follows very nicely after the duettino; full blooded, bright and positive. Super speed returns for Serbate dei custodi, but I can’t say it suffers much. It’s just that I like it and I want it around for a while.

Publio : Annio kiss some imperial arse: the high and the low, all marvel at Tito’s majesty. Tito is earnest and imperial but also thoughtful when he has his brilliant idea about using the loot for the earthquake relief fund. Publio and Annio marvel some more.

We get a reprise of the march, during which I wonder what stage action they got in the house.

Annio wants Sesto to intervene for him, Sesto complies in an unsure voice, Tito is pretty upset or just noble and rambles on a bit until the fateful announcement regarding marrying Servilia. Super noble Annio saves his buddy and marvels again – now at Servilia’s magnificence. Mynenko is suspiciously good at this. Send some upright roles his way. Sesto mumbles about Tito’s being way too generous but it’s hard to say if he’s embarrassed or licking his chops because Franco sounds very samey in his recits.

Del piu sublime soglio: it’s not easy to launch into this, because the tenor starts all exposed. Richter begins fearlessly and continues in a surprisingly dark but pleasant tone. I’d’ve liked more of a stars in his eyes manner but houghtfulness is nice too, fits this earnest Tito.

Annio : Servilia: this is a bumbling young man in love moment for Annio. Mynenko does very well and I have to admit he’s a better voice actor than Franco. He and Bobro mix quite beautifully. A bit more flow from the orchestra would’ve suited me better.

Servilia : Tito: seems like Tito springs from behind a column, as they get right into their Tito, let me tell you a secret moment. Bobro is all right, Tito is impressed and enthusiastic to find someone so honest.

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: it’s kicked off by a marching duck very careful bassoon. Live a little, buddy. Maybe s/he’s self conscious at how ducky his reed sounds tonight. Richter gets all Italianate on ma saria felicita, which I like. Get as Italianate as you want on this! You’re basically in love. Nice rubato on affanno. There’s a bit of strain on impEro. Still, pretty good job Richter, he’s on the right track.

Vitellia : Servilia: Vitellia is more ironic than full on bitchy and Servilia actually laughs in her face. Go Servilia, but you’re not helping big bro. Vitellia works herself up.

pre-Parto recit: Sesto sounds unsure, Vitellia gets a tender victim and latches onto him. She doesn’t have to do much and thus seems like she’s acting out of boredom and because she has just been slighted by Servilia rather than burning fury against Tito. Franco steps it up a bit and conveys Sesto’s own anger and confusion and doubt. Vitellia flails about which seems to focus Sesto, though, hm, I’m not quite convinced. It’s an argument all right but not particularly intense, somewhat all over the shop.

Parto: hm, unsure partos, pretty clarinet. Again the strings from this position sound overly syncopated, which is quite distracting. It all rolls on at low intensity, with the clarinet the most focused and consistent. It’s hard, because it’s meandering, so every ounce of intensity matters.

It was a proper ear opener hearing it this way and discovering how much I take the first 6min of mood for granted. There is no question that Franco dispatches the coloratura post haste and with no problems whatsoever. But streto aside, this is a mood aria and Franco seems somewhat cautious or maybe unclear about what he wants to deliver. I don’t particularly enjoy the rather too closed way he pronounces the vowels, especially o as uh. He’s Argentinian, so he has grown up with the right o for Italian. He must have his reasons for closing so much but it’s not pretty. Sounds like he’s using mixed voice pretty much through this so it’s possible it’s taking its toll. I wish I knew. Still, his fans were in ecstacy.

Having heard Franco live in Mozart I can tell how unused we are/I am with the countertnor voice in later Mozart. Whereas in something like Mitridate it works very well, from Idomeneo on things seem to have changed. And still, these roles were written for castrati – I guess their style had changed too. Baroque stylings don’t seem to do Mozart justice. Also, though the streto shouldn’t be sluggish, I don’t think it should be supersonic either (it’s not a bravura aria). Sesto’s mad all right, but mad with love.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…: Vitellia is appropriately gleeful. The men bring the good news, she’s confused – very good Cesare…?

Vengo! Apetatte… Sesto!: quite possibly the speediest take on this trio I have heard, yet the extreme speed shaves off some of the anguish. Hey, Maestro, it’s all about anguish! Nice, eardrum piercing high D.

Act I finale

More recit doesn’t favour Franco and since recits do convey drama in Mazzola’s Tito, we do have a problem. There’s a lot for Sesto to be saying and the range of colours is limited. I have a hard time following the dramatic arc and instead I start to tire of the constantly very high pitch coupled with his mumbling. Things get better when Sesto has a bit of a tune right before Annio’s entrance.

Maestro is right in his intention of keeping this brisk but I may be too used to slower speeds. The tempo is getting to me. He slows it down for the tailend, where the rather high pitched chorus sounds very abrasive, more so than usual. It’s not a bad idea, though aurally not a favourite.

Act II

Annio : Sesto: Annio and Sesto come off as slightly alarmed.

Torna di Tito a lato: Mynenko does a very good job with Annio’s plea. I like the gentle, reasonable take (don’t scare him off but stir him in the right direction).

is this hot? Sesto looks like he’s after her wallet, though Vitellia appears rather ticklish (pic from forumopera.com)

Partir deggio…?: here Sesto sounds more confused than before. Vitellia comes in all hush-hush and tries to get him going. His answer is… matter of fact. It is possible to play Sesto as uncomplicated. Well, just about. If he’s supposed to be very young (2014 Champs Elysees Tito) and his chemistry with Vitellia is high octane. Franco is fitted with rather complicated hair and a leather jacket in this production, though neither makes him look very young but at least he sounds young. I can’t comment on the chemistry as I haven’t seen it with me own eyes and the pictures seem to me neutral. Vocally, though, I ain’t feeling sparks fly.

Moving on, Publio himself feels chatty rather than menacing in the way he lets Sesto know the game is up. Ingrata… addio! is the only moment infused with appropriate emotion.

Se al volto mai ti senti: Franco does beautifully. A countertenor Sesto sounds ethereal and this is Sesto at his most supernaturally detached. Good support from Vitellia and Publio. Maestro keeps to his brisk manner.

Ah grazie si rendano: the orchestra slides smoothly into this and gives gentle support, the choir sounds lovely in itself, enters softly and conveys that air of otherworldliness and uncertainty just before Tito’s re-appearance. However, I think there is a jarring disconnect, with the choir behind the orchestra. Given that it happens in this context it’s kind of fitting yet kind of wrong. Tito’s entrance is pretty good.

Publio : Tito: Publio sounds very relaxed – hey, Tito, I’ve taken care of everything, the traitor is under key, get cracking with the death warrant so we can watch the games.

Tardi s’avvede: Sebestyén has a proper bass voice. It’s not particularly elastic or interesting dramatically but solid rendition.

Tito : Publio : Annio: Richter is a pretty good actor, I like his lo so! Partite! It’s sane but you feel his anger. The other two seem polite if firm around him.

Tu fosti tradito: tricky aria that sounds tricky even from such an accomplished singer as Mynenko. Competent as he comes off, Annio is not the role to best showcase Mynenko’s strengths. He’s more of a middle to chest countertenor, his top is a bit acidic.

Tito’s anguished recit: it’s a bit declamatory but Richter does try to go for nuance and he especially manages some emotive ppps. The accompaniment is a bit wooly but Tito comes off as heartbroken enough.

Quello di Tito e il volto: Franco sounds beautifully ethereal again, Richter satifyingly bewildered, Sebestyén either can’t project or he was on the other side of the room (possible, as Vitellia had the same problem at the very beginning of the opera). It speeds up as usual (for this performance) and ends somewhat too quick, as if having run out of time. Ok, so Maestro does rubato, just not in a way that I can follow.

Tito : Sesto: Richter is pretty into it in a chummy manner (just bromance) and Franco tries but the lack of range in recits severly limits his emotional palette and I have to strain to pick what he’s going for.

Deh, per questo instante solo: I must once again remind all that Mozart and Mazzola’s version of Tito is not a baroque opera. Extreme anything is not advised, though it sometimes flirts with Sturm und Drang. Here we get too much speed in the streto. Not enough rubato. I know I’m obsessed with rubato but I love it when you get it in this aria – and, in fact, in Tito in general. What is Sesto’s intention here? He’s already said it’s only fair if he gets the ax. Franco sounds beautiful and sings correctly but I just ain’t feelin’ the internal drama.

Maestro observes the slower moments. Still, judging by how quickly the orchestra gets in 4th gear halfway into Sesto’s last dolor, he just wants to get them over with so we can reach the best part which is zoomed through so fast I can feel the breeze in my hair and the slur in the orchestra. The audience has obviously come to see Franco so they love and focus on the high speeds he can negotiate like an olympic skater.

Tito makes up his mind: once again Richter pulls some good contrasts in mood. I like that he stays conflicted even after he reaches his decision.

Se all’impero: from where the bootlegger was sat the orchestra comes off disproportionately string-y. Richter is more (earnest) everyman than regal. Nice and appropriate little ppp trill on timor. The killer coloratura isn’t as accurate as it could be but we all know it’s a vanquisher of warriors.

Vitellia : Publio: Vitellia is alarmed, Publio perhaps a bit peeved on escluso io fui but not unsympathetic. This Prefect of the Guard may have not caught on to the greater scheme.

Vitellia : Servilia: Annio: I liked the thoughtful way Cvilak says Annio, non son’ Augusta ancor… but I think Vitellia should come off as less congenial and logical. She’s not all bad, yes, but anyoone who was plotting murder just an act ago will keep an undercurrent of tension throughout.

S’altro che lagrime: waltzy, melancholic, almost Strauss. I liked the take though Bobro’s voice is a bit shrill (but non giovera was wisely attacked and she did not sound bad there at all).

Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori: there’s something very attractive about Cvilak’s middle that fits Vitellia’s compelling charisma. Her lower register isn’t as reliable and she gets a bit shrill towards the end (Vitellia is allowed to sound ugly, yet I was iffy about her pitch at the top in very exposed moments and a harsh gear change right before the nightmarish low G = reminds you how bloody difficult this role is).

This is still a competent rendition as strong emphasis is put on her strengths – chief among them projection, used to underline the most intense moments. The drama was pretty well done. She’s a rather rational Vitellia, she understands her own folly. Beautiful tone for the basset horn, though I would’ve liked it to take on a more descriptive role.

Act II finale

It’s well done, a bit speedier in general than I’m most comfortable with but spot on in intention. There is perhaps a fear among conductors that Tito can drag or sound remote so it’s understandable that they try to counteract this by putting the pedal to the metal. The chorus was surprisingly good in sound, though again it was slightly ahead of the orchestra in the finale. Richter has a typical Tito voice. It’s bright and honest – perhaps even a bit naive – sounding. Reminds us that it was the same singer who created Don Ottavio. Virtuous to the bone, a little on the pompous side. Richter brings all those qualities here.

I think the problem countertenors face in Mozart is longer lines over a meatier orchestration. The way I see it at this point, in Baroque everything is a bit more rhythmical and jumpy, calling for elasticity of voice and pitch precision. Here the line meanders a lot and wants steadiness infused with local colour. (Lyric) mezzos have more heft to their voices and more range to freely play with.

I can’t wrap this up without admitting I was disappointed with his vocal acting/diction. I’m not usually a stickler for diction but here I found it marred his interpretation. Sesto is an exciting character and in this case he comes off flat, like a chap who grimly puts up with things for no discernable reason, not even death wish. Whilst listening I wondered what Xavier Sabata would’ve done instead, as I have been very impressed with his recit skills. So I have to retract what I said (even to Franco) about wanting to hear him in this role.

Eterni dei was full of drama and immediacy, I liked it. Maestro is spot on in this kind of situation. There was a bit more ping in the soprano area than I normally find ideal but the entertwining of different sections of the choir was exquisite. A satisfying ending to a decent stab at Tito (b-boom-tch, I know, but I always wanted to sneak that one it).


  1. I will refrain from musing on the existence or lack thereof of a male brain/female brain but I did think about it. 

Alice Coote Handel recital (3 September, Proms 2015)

Thadieu and I had a lot of fun listening (each on our side of the Atlantic) to Coote’s Handel recital (with the English Concert) at the Royal Albert Hall via Radio 3. I don’t know if you can find it on the i-player (I couldn’t) but it would be a shame if it wasn’t stored.

She started with a few teasing bars from Myself I shall adore then broke into a playful Sta nell’Ircana. A rather balanced Scherza, infida and a very slow He was despised were also there, as was the entire Myself I shall adore, with the orchestra sounding particularly buoyant, but I think the star of the night was Dopo notte.

Since it’s my favourite Ariodante aria I’ve heard a good number of renditions, with many making an impact – from fierce (Fagioli) and muscular (VK) to gently joyous (Hallenberg), bubbly (JDD) or quietly resonant (Blythe). Coote’s is closest to Hallenberg’s, more introverted than hers yet luminous – very much in keeping with (how I see) the character. Needless to say, I loved it, as I enjoyed the just right tempo.

There were also several times during the recital when I was reminded why I like the mezzo voice: intimate, warm (of course), soft yet intense. Something that I’ve long thought specific to Coote’s voice is a darkness not so much of timbre as of feeling. She can convey searing hurt just by adding pressure to a syllable.

Tito at ROH – Sussmayr’s revenge (2002)

This performance1 is unique in that it’s centred on Tito and Sesto’s Act II 1:1. But it’s not just about these two; Vitellia, though somewhat side-lined, provides exquisite moments of bitter sarcasm.

It might come as a surprise to today’s sensibilities but Clemenza was the first Mozart opera staged in London (in 1805). The very early Romantics actually liked it, especially the Act I finale. Then it all went pear-shaped.

Tito: Bruce Ford
Vitellia: Barbara Fritolli
Sesto: Vesselina Kasarova
Annio: Katarina Karneus
Servillia: Anna Netrebko
Publio: Brindley Sheratt
Conductor: Colin Davis | Orchestra and Choir of the ROH, 2002

ROH staged Tito last in September 2002 and luckily there is a boot to commemorate the event. Wish there was a video if only to see why the audience laughed on several occasions. Apparently not at the production… though I understand critics rather disliked it. Having seen Fritolli’s Met Vitellia I can guess she pulled some funny faces.

I’ve had a soft spot for Bruce Ford since hearing him as Mitridate and Idomeneo and I really wanted to hear his Tito. It’s no secret that VK is my favourite Sesto so I was curious to hear what she did with him pre-2003. Though not a Fritolli fan, I admit she does facetiousness well (in the above-mentioned Met Tito) and there must be a lot of people who like her, since she keeps cropping up in this role. It’s also no secret how I feel about AN, but I will keep it civil here. I didn’t know Karneus and Sheratt (although he’s still with ROH and I’ve either seen him or will see him in something), so I had no expectations.

Maestro runs a tight ship, the tempi are speedy, which brings to the forefront singers’ timing, which is outstanding. I’m this close to saying the recits were my favourite thing, everybody’s commitment was impressive. Maestro was a man of elegance, which permeated the productions he conducted.

Act I

Overture: expressively done – not too extreme, well balanced.

Ma che, sempre l’istesso…: these two sound rather posh; a pretty civilised argument, the kind that covers all sorts of resentments and insecurities. It’s funny how sometimes a production fits the location (I initially wanted to call this the Islington Tito).

Come ti piace, imponi: Sesto wants to make peace and starts ardently then continues dashingly romantic (tutto faro per te) with the unconditional support of the orchestra. Vitellia sounds very determined and practical. Sesto continues with the romantic tone (gia il tuo furror m’accende). Swoon inducing touch on the dueted battaglia in me spietata. I like how you each character keeps its dramatic individuality.

Annio is of the serious and alarmed kind. Fritellia is of course relishing the sarcasm of taking the piss out of his enthusiasm for Tito’s virtue. Annio is undeterred. Neither is Fritellia. Gotta give it to her, I love how she acts this bit.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: Fritolli is not a cold Vitellia as much as a selfish one. She can pull out the sexy moves when necessary. Of course it still feels like manipulation rather than unbridled passion – and the singing too comes across as very artificial. But then that’s what this aria is about.

Annio : Sesto: Sesto seems relieved to have a moment with buddy.

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: really nice vocal waltz balance between KK and VK. Must be the Ks.

March/Serbate, dei custodi: slow-ish and imperial. These marches developed from dances, did they not? Serbate is well paced and driven but the soprano-heavy kind. Davis seems to favour these.

Arse kissing: Publio and Tito spring up to present the tribute. They’re all right but rather declamatory. Ford is too, here, but gets more natural when describing the volcano eruption.

Tito, Sesto, Annio: when left alone, Annio urges Sesto to speak for him. Sesto obliges but Tito interrupts him as if the thought of Berenice is physically painful to him. He’s a soulful chap. He makes his announcement about Servilia, Sesto gets all tongue-tied, self-sacrificing Annio saves the day. I know what Sesto’s thinking: look at these two, paragons of virtue, the lot of them. Make me sick! For the second time today someone (Tito) tells Sesto to stop being so doubtful: he’s in gods’ favour now. A’ight but really, you shouldn’t have. I’m rather well off already, he says with a smile. Tito: But I’m so busy with admin duties, making you happy is my only joy!

Del piu sublime soglio: Ford’s Tito is one romantic chap. He makes this aria sound like the love song it can be. There is applause, but not enough for the subtle characterisation he’s pulling off. This Tito is unselfconsciously in love with his Sesto. The kind of tender love Kaufmann’s Tito was trying for but ended up in self parody.

Non ci pentiam: poor Annio, he sounds so sweet and sad. He’s one of those very earnest Annios, who is bewildered by moral ambiguities.

Ah, perdona al primo affetto: it’s easy to tell them apart. They’re both a bit too heavy for this but it’s not without merit.

Tito/Publio discuss business of state: I like the way Tito just brushes Publio off when Servilia shows up. This Tito knows how to be authoritative without going OTT. Excellent. His interaction with Servilia is equally well done – respectful but manly. AN is being girly.

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: slow start echoes by a slow, pointed ending. This seems to be the way Davis does it and it’s not my favourite but once Ford starts nothing else matters. Gorgeous pp on sincero contrasted with muscular un vasto impero! Where the hell is Ford and why isn’t he singing more Tito?! I know it’s 13 years later but still. His interpretation is fabulous. Sane and romantic Tito is way underrated.

Vitellia/Servilia face-off: it’s not badly done. This is one of those productions populated by civilised people who tend to hide their true feelings behind snarkiness.

pre-Parto recit: Fritolli has an interesting way of negotiating this moment (very calculated). VK’s mia… vita? makes me chuckle every time. It reminds me that in spite of her fondness for serious characters she’s got a rather quirky sense of humour. Sesto has many doubts but is very eager to appear manly (and perhaps even a bit cheerful) in front of his sarcastic Vitellia. Civil argument again.

Parto: though the orchestra is stern, Sesto is keeping the partos manly – he doesn’t sound unsure as usual. The clarinet before the first guardami seems rather… glib. Indeed the guardami, tutto oblio! comes off grand, as if Sesto’s saying yes, yes, I’m good to avenge you, I do this kind of thing all the time, complete with sweeping hand gesture; the (very good) clarinet follows him with more glibness for i a venticarti io vano – it’s easy, like 1, 2, 3. He’s more flirty than conflicted and the orchestra is helping him serenade his icy mistress (how seductive are those quel che vorrai faros!). But then come a couple of surprisingly pleading guardamis, suggesting that maybe he’s not quite as tough as he wants Vitellia to think. It’s interesting how Sesto uses the first part of the aria to convince Vitellia he’ll do it and the second to convince himself. It’s very good but still not as good as the one and only from less than a year later 😉 the crowd loved it because they could not see into the future…

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: this Vitellia is still thinking about her revenge, so she’s not really gleeful. She’s still bitter about being snubbed by Tito. Publio and Annio appear and Fritolli’s Cesare??? makes Vitellia sound properly taken aback. Again she must’ve pulled a great bewildered face, as there’s giggling from the crowd. Karneus’ Annio announces in his earnest voice that she’s Empress. That’s where I’d have burst into laughter. Maybe the surtitles were ahead?

Vengo…! Aspetatte… Sesto…!: this Vitellia sounds like she’s about to pass out. Good idea! Fritolli brushes by the high D, good support from Karneus and Sheratt.

Act I finale

The orchestra is anguished and brisk. Sesto comes in and tries his best to halt the proceedings, so as to get his bearings. Alas, there’s no time for that. The interplay between valore…? and orchestra is just spot on. It suitably grand and everybody gets into it. Vitellia is still looking out for number one. Taci, forsenato, deh, non te palesar! is said with sang froid. Maestro does a good job handling the moment.

Act II

Annio/Sesto recit: I always feel that it’s not like Annio to be so quick to find excuses for Sesto’s crime. But now it occurs to me – especially with Karnaeus’ very earnest Annio vs. VK’s shifty Sesto – that Sesto has that little phony emotional speech about wandering the wilderness as payment for his terrible crime, complete with watch over Tito, make sure this doesn’t happen again! just to make Annio feel bad for him. I’ve never thought about Sesto playing Annio but why not?

Torna de Tito a lato: Karneus’ Annio is as dignified and upright a friend as any could hope for. If this one’s plea can’t make up your mind to fall on the side of the good you’ve got some issues. Lovely technique.

Partir deggio o restar…?: but we know Sesto has issues, especially when sung by VK, who I doubt has ever played him straight up. When on his own, he’s rather cooly weighing the pros and cons of leaving. With the very self-serving Vitellia he acts all knight on white horse. When Publio asks for his sword he has no problems pretending not to know what that’s all about. Hm… Publio has no time for chit-chat, he’s very brisk. Sesto changes gear into victim-mode with a heartfelt alfin, tiranna... Eh heh. Gotta love manipulative Sestos!

Se al volto mai ti senti: the very decisive – even ruthless – Publio is playing right into Sesto’s hands. Sesto’s ardent rammenta chi t’adoras are contrasted with Publio’s strong vienis and this most cynical Vitellia is very slightly starting to crack. Maestro begins the trio relaxed enough but by the end this had turned into one of the most anguished Se al voltos I’ve heard, with a dramatic pause before the last – angelic (Vitellia is melting) – che crudeltas and a lot of rubato in general. Usually this is simply a beautiful, melancholic moment but in this case I don’t think there’s an ounce of drama unsqueezed.

Ah, grazie se rendano: the choir is quite scattered, I like it a bit more blended but maybe it’s not a bad idea. It’s a tricky moment, maybe not everybody’s caught on to the news? … or something. Ford’s Tito is very much alive and though obviously saddened by the turn of events, he doesn’t seem shaken to the core.

Tito doesn’t believe his Sesto is reo: he seeks reassurance from Publio.

Tardi s’avvede: there are better sung Tardis but I like Sheratt’s no-nonsense Publio. Finally a Publio who sounds like a Prefect of the Imperial Guards! Ok, one of the few. Davis seems to like these, as he had a powerful one in Robert Lloyd for the 1976 recording.

Tito still does not believe it: Ford does some lovely, original things with Tito’s lines. His partite! is downright scary. Annio has a reason to sound apprehensive. Publio is still strong and steady.

Tu fosti tradito: nice and detailed; Karneus’ very good technique serves her well with the high tessitura. Really enthusiastic applause!

Tito’s anguished recit: Ford starts cooking with gas. You know that bit in the middle where Tito thinks aloud about the peasant who has it so much easier – he thinks – because his relationships with his loved ones are way more straight forward? It’s such a hard thing to get right because it’s something out of 18th century corny pastoral imagination. I’ve met one or two of those peasants and their relationships with the loved ones are as fucked up as anyone else’s. Yet Ford fills it with genuine emotion, of which he has an impressive reserve: from gently sad to confused to angry. His Tito is feral without getting shouty or “opera-style declamatory” when asking everybody to fuck off.

Quello di Tito e il volto: the monologue trio – love them. They glance at each other and respond to one another in their heads. Maybe somebody someday directs this as a telepathic moment. Excellent job all three. Always good to hear a solid Publio.

The big Tito/Sesto face-off: 3min of ace balance of emotion between Tito and Sesto, gripping, nuanced interaction. I actually wanted them to go on reciting! Considering what comes next I have a hard time believing it myself. But it’s true. It’s something else.

When Tito and Sesto are left alone, Ford switches from an authoritarian tone to heartbreak for Ah, Sesto... It’s disarmingly simple. You feel an entire history between them in just those two words. And it’s got some very gay undertones, judging by how both Ford and VK continue.

Deh, per questo instante solo: VK mixes it up in every production; out of her Sestos I’ve heard so far2 this is the heroic one – although not heroic in the good guy sense. You get the feeling that this one can more than hold his own in a fist fight.

There is an understandable tendency to bank on the sheer beauty of this rondo – especially if your Sesto is the gentle, melancholic kind. Luckily that’s never the case with VK (one thing her male characters have in common is liveliness). Whilst not nearly as cynically manipulative as her later Zurich one, this Sesto isn’t sweet either, which she emphasises with some very dissonant touches on sdegno, vero and pietade, the likes of which I haven’t heard from anyone else (but which had been hinted at along the way in this production). Here is the moment when this Sesto realises that sticking with Vitellia doesn’t actually gain him much if he’s really lost Tito. Imagine fireworks of anguish – that’s how this ends. The public was so ecstatic they didn’t let the orchestra finish. I know how that feels: you sit on your hands for 10-15 seconds before you can’t hold it anymore. Lucky bastards 😉

Tito makes up his mind: Ford is a great actor. I’ve never heard these recits done quite like he does them.

Se all’impero: the cool thing about Ford is that his voice is both agile and dark. Accordingly, Maestro lets the orchestra flex some muscle. But Ford can sound equally vulnerable and fearless when tackling the coloratura of doom. The harpsichord sounds like an accordion (the Se all’impero polka!). Deserved more applause.

Vitellia and Sesto’s people: are talking about whatever. What I really wanted was for Tito to run after Sesto and tell him all was forgiven. Then the both of them would have a long true heart-to-heart and a (manly) love duet. And we could skip to eterni dei and troncate, gods, his days, if he’ll let another manipulative woman steal his Sesto again. That kind of thing.

S’altro che lagrime: there are sounds coming out of AN’s mouth of which the top notes aren’t bad and the low ones are porridge.

Ecco il punto…: Fritolli’s recit voice is slightly more interesting than the singing one. Am I convinced?

Non piu di fiori: she has a good range, hence why I suppose she sings Vitellia a lot.

Act II finale

Tito, yay!: the choir is a teensy bit wonky. It’s not that the sopranos are too forward but they are kinda… something until the eterni dei bit, where all comes together as it should. Maestro makes it sweeping and majestic and air-conducting worthy3. Tito is sad. Vitellia does the right thing. Eh, I don’t believe in her goodness. Ford is still strong and refreshingly human. He pulls the amazing feat of making Tito sound completely believable. He’s neither camp, nor neurotic, nor limp, nor fatherly. He’s simply a dude with lots of responsibilities and a warm heart. Wonderful.

So now I know what I want for Christmas: a proper Tito sequel, with more Tito and Sesto and less of everybody else. Tito on the beach. Not necessary by Glass.

I’ve paced myself poorly again this month and wrote on three different Titi without quite finishing any of them. This one was closest to finish so it got posted. I feel like it might have needed more polish here and there, especially the finales as well as more consideration on Davis’ conducting compared to the other two Titi of his I have.


  1.  Is this the production where Karneus narrowly missed being squished by a giant A? Or a watermelon… or a guillotine? I think I should stop reading random Tito reviews – or start taking notes. 
  2. I’m still missing the one with Gens and Castronovo, but I’ll get to it. 
  3. How amazing must it be to conduct the Act II finale at ROH?