Category Archives: favourite opera productions

Why is Tito usually so much older than Sesto? and other musings

Yesterday I had a short exchange on this subject with Kate V. and it seems it got stuck in my head before the performance 😉 Here are some things that occurred to me only whilst seeing it again in the house (says something about my usual attention span):

on the subject of age: it works for Sesto to be/look significantly younger, especially when the production is based on the angle of Tito missing those more innocent times. In this case = absolutely. I was thinking about Sesto’s rock, too, which is located right under Tito’s chair/throne. There is a reason why it’s there and not across the stage, which would also make sense.

burying the magpie (during Del piu sublime soglio):

  • shows us that Tito and Sesto are working on their issues together
  • Tito hasn’t forgotten but has forgiven Sesto, so he’s not faking his goodness
  • Sesto is aware of his own nature and is actively trying to become a better person

amicitia vs il primo amor: Glyndebourne translated il primo amor in Deh, per questo as “the first friendship”. During the opera (ie, other than in this aria) their relationship is called amicitia, whereas Annio and Servilia always refer to theirs as il primo amor. What I take from this is that Tito and Sesto’s friendship is of a more intense kind than usual friendship (though not necessary gay as we understand it today). Also considering it’s only called amor during an aria, it’s probably not something that’s so much put into words as felt.

questo cor and altro cor: Sesto refers to questo cor in Deh, per questo (not cor 😉 ) and immediately on its heels Tito asks for (un) altro cor in Se all’impero. I like that link of ideas and I also like how at the end all the people who turn out to share questo cor are downstairs in the reeds whereas the bureaucrats are upstairs in the manmade structure1.

ah, sventurato!: says Publio, upon hearing from Tito that Sesto’s fate is decided (right before Se all’impero). I’ve always taken it to refer to Sesto but after yesterday’s performance it hit me that Publio is talking about Tito because he knows Tito2 and he also knows what the mob wants (not merciful leaders, despite professing otherwise).

the reeds: they pop right out of their stands, if you look closely when Tito is harvesting them (Tu fosti tradito).


  1. I like designer Christian Schmidt’s comments on how the structure seems to have dropped from the sky in that originally idyllic landscape. It’s a good metaphor for adult life, with its inherent rigidity and hypocrisy invading the simpler, more direct and more imaginative world of childhood. 
  2. isn’t he singing what Tito feels during Quello di Tito e il volto? He’s clearly aware of Tito’s struggles. 

Tito under the mulberry tree (more Glyndebourne)

Intermission notes:

This time I cried during Del piu sublime soglio. Awesome performance from Croft.

Everybody is more relaxed by now, the acting flows beautifully. There are no more cameras.

Rookie audience:

Young woman at intermission: is Sesto sung by a woman? I kept wondering…
Other ladies in the loo queue: Yes, yes, he is. There was a cast change. But the reviews are about the one we’re seeing.
Young woman: oh, wow! Sesto is the star of the evening!
Other ladies: YES!

The only applause came after Parto. I was confused as it had been so beautifully performed, light and gentle, with some swoony ppp along the way (really moving) but also funny (Vitellia putting the moves on Sesto).

Especially in the wake of the Currentzis Tito I want to commend Ticci and Gupta on the fortepiano continuo for a very light, unfussy touch.

It’s raining. I took refuge under a very friendly mulberry tree with a cute little sleepy bird. How appropriate!

We had a weird incident on the way here, that held up the trains for almost an hour and a half. Luckily I was on a train ahead of the suggested train. The shuttle waited for the stragglers 🙂 but we only had 20min to settle and have a bite before curtain up.

Loud thunder was overheard in the auditorium just as the insurrection started on stage.

Staff offered umbrellas but I like my tree. Too bad I couldn’t visit with the sheep properly (now grazing on the adjacent meadow) ❤

Gent next to me in the auditorium: nobody dies! Not very operatic.
Dehggi: nobody should die. It’s all about the search for a better, more forgiving society.

the mulberry is split in two and the side on the right is propped up.

After the intermission:

This was an all around emotional day, as it was my last time at Glyndebourne this year, the end of “my” season (though I really would’ve liked to come back again a couple of times, but you have to observe life-opera balance). Also going to the opera on your own makes for a very different atmosphere, perhaps even moreso when it’s your favourite opera. Even so, a few conversations happened:

Lady who sat next to me for act 2: I saw you talking to the usher about those free seats up there.
dehggi: yes, I want to possibly upgrade because this is my favourite opera.
Lady: …of all operas?!
dehggi: YES! I really like the ideals, forgiveness… and the music is beautiful.
Lady: well, someone is always forgiven at the end of Mozart operas.
(dehggi: someone, even some ones but not everyone.) I didn’t actually say it, because I didn’t particularly want to chat, I was in my own world and cried again during Eterni dei. After the curtain calls I dashed out for fear somebody would notice how tearful I was. Also to be first in line at the loo.

On the bus there were two French people behind me. The woman thought the production was too “brutalist” and concluded “this was the new tendency”. I wanted to turn around and ask where she had been for the past 20 years. She did think the voices very good, though this opera was “by no means” one of her favourites (dehggi: eyeroll). Then she went on to wax lyrical about some wonderful production of Giselle at Opera Garnier.

At 21:30 the train station was almost deserted and the train board let us know the 19:30 was delayed. Some ladies started to make plans in case the trains were still disrupted. I said I’d help them split the taxi bill to London if it came to that. We co-opted some very excited Japanese ladies, so all in all, we would’ve been 5 to split that bill.

The train was on time. I’ve never heard the Glyndebourne crowd whoop so freely outside the opera house before 😀

Everybody said they liked the performance, very good voices. One of the “taxi planning” ladies explained trousers roles to me 😀 Then I somehow got to talking about the earlier Hamlet production/opera with the other taxi lady. She, like the gent sat next to me at that performance, loved it (the actual music)! She also thought the production was “more modern” than this one. (dehggi: head scratching moment. Maybe we were thinking of different things?).

In the end, there were three arias that received applause: Sesto’s and Se all’impero (<- a lot more than for the livestreamed performance). However, there was very loud thumping at curtain calls. I guess this audience is more used to lieder? Heh. I’m not quite sure why they kept their appreciation to the end if they actually liked it this much. There was, however, a lot of laughter, even during Vengo…! Aspetatte! I agree, it’s a funny moment.

A paragon of wit (to do Rossini proud)

paragonechatelet

Having gobbled up a good number of opera productions I think I’m pretty aware by now how hard it actually is to do something interesting which also fits the spirit of the libretto/music. One of those felicitous productions is the ThÊâtre du Châtelet staging of Rossini’s La pietra del paragone. I’ve hinted at my appreciation for it but I never gave it centre stage before.

A few things started this one off the right path:

  • (and you’ll have to bear with me if I always mention it) this is the opera that shares an overture with Tancredi
  • it’s got Sonia Prina in one of those Rossini feisty women roles (TM) (with just a bit of cross-dressing, when Clarice disguises herself as her (convenient) own brother)
  • it contains action figures (those who remember the old opera, innit? header know the look is right up my alley)
  • Spinosi’s mad tempi give it a very modern feel

The reason I felt the need to talk about it was a recent surge in disparaging YT comments:

“I understand they didn’t have money to build sets, that’s OK, LOL, but abusing technology…to create a background and special effects does not represent the story in Pietra di Paragone. I doubt Rossini would have liked it.”

“I agree that the sets are nothing more than a perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera. It is preferable to listen to it without viewing it.”

The sets are most certainly not a “perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera” unless one’s idea of staging opera starts and ends with this. But we already have that so why not try something else?

Let’s start by settling what this opera is about – deception. The decided lack of much of anything on stage matches several things that lack – or appear to lack – in the libretto (the Count’s money, most of the women’s genuine interest in him, what’s his face talent for poetry). The clever projection of luxurious things that aren’t really there fits the Count’s ingenious scheme of getting rid of undeserving pretenders. Lastly, it’s really silly and funny and that is the deeper essence of Pietra – a comedy of bantz.

(I know you didn’t think this one had a deeper essence 😉 but if you’ve read this blog more than once – or better yet, met me – you know I find witty banter a fine art worth pursuing. (Whilst we’re indulging in that old skool favourite – musing about “what composers really wanted”) I’m fairly sure so did Rossini so ha to the bit where the YT warrior above says he doubts Rossini would’ve liked it. Keeping Tancredi in mind, you can follow Rossini’s brilliant sendup of opera seria (the overture, the chorus, the duet tenor-baritone/bass, the fake-seria duet between the Count and Clarice etc. – everything is… well, perverted opera seria structure. Tongue-in-cheek grand.)

I will give detractors one thing: it must’ve been pretty confusing to see it in the house as it’s so obviously meant for DVD (and in that sense, the TV direction is great). But the singers are all superior actors and that must’ve gone a long way. On the other hand, the sense of everything not being what it appears must’ve been heightened.

The secret is in the sauce

This wonderful production finally opened up the greatness of Semiramide to me. It was long overdue. Now if I can get a production to do a similar thing with Idomeneo.

Sometimes the right visuals will make you more receptive to the music within, just as the right singers will make previously dull sounding music suddenly appealing. Now combine the two.

The latex/high gothic Tancredi (Valentini Terrani, 1985)

tancrediboat

Latex, brass wigs, corpse paint, a cage for Amenaide in Act II and a proper bad-ass boat. Hell, yea, I’d have liked that boat myself. Nevermind that in 1005AD work on Notre Dame de Paris hadn’t even started2, the stage design conveys a satisfyingly Medieval look, although I’m not sure how you can work latex into the Middle Ages. Logical considerations aside, it’s my favourite production design of Tancredi so far. Did I mention the boat? Oh, yea.

  • Tancredi: Lucia Valentini Terrani
  • Amenaide: Gianna Rolandi
  • Argirio: Dalmacio Gonzales
  • Orbazzano: Roberto Scandiuzzi
  • Isaura: Monica Tagliasacchi
  • Roggiero: Lucia Rizzi

Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti | Orchestra e coro del Teatro Regio di Torino (1985)

Stage direction: Pierluigi Pizzi (just so you rest assured Calixto Bieito1 was not involved in this production ;-))

On we go!