Category Archives: mozart

El Tito de Villazon (DG, 2018)

In which we (ie, I) return to Tito after a very long break and find new (to “us”) voices, pleasantly re-acquaint ourselves with older finds and get a few surprises, some good, some not so good.

Tito: Rolando Villazon
Vitellia: Marina Rebeka
Sesto: Joyce DiDonato
Annio: Tara Erraught
Servilia: Regina Mühlemann
Publio: Adam Plachetka
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin | Chamber Orchestra of Europe and RIAS Kammerchor

Overture: notable for its pregnant pauses, though less pregnant than Currentzis’. Those ones are preganant with sixtuplets.

Act I

Ma che…: pianoforte a bit loose in the joints; nice tone from Rebeka, actually. Never heard her before, but she can do recit quite excitingly. JDD is a less nervous Sesto than when I last heard her; more authoritative than you usually hear him, with a touch of introversion. Good balance between the voices though I wouldn’t say any sexual obsession is conveyed. Surprisingly, Sesto falls like a souffle in the end. It’s the longer version of the recit.

Come ti piace: Sesto rocks the rubato. Sounds a lot like N-S lets JDD lead. Rebeka comes in guns blazing and she can hold that with the best of them but it’s nothing new as far as Vitellia is concerned. The ending is beautifully executed but again, nothing overly exciting.

Annio shows up: he’s no-nonsense, Tito is waiting! Vitellia mocks him. He doesn’t care. O virtu…! comes off… I’m not sure how, sort of like Sesto is reading about Tito. Annio and Vitellia sound more alive than him.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: maybe not the sexiest inflections on the market but Rebeka has a very good looking tone and an impressive range.

pre-Prendi recit: The continuo is a bit gentile for my taste. Annio and Sesto are cute together.

Deh, prendi: go Annio! one feels the Romeo and the Octavian in Erraught’s enthusiasm.

March/Serbate, dei custodi: a bit funny jumping from Nerone’s court to Tito’s court with 150 musical years in between. Choir sounds rather telephoned.

This version has the long text of the Bring gifts to Tito! bit. Villazon starts well but he does soon sound like he’s ready to take flight rather than saying words. Or maybe I’m still mentally with Poppea and 150 years later recits are naturally a lot more stylised.

March reprise: it’s there and I always like to hear it but that’s it.

Annio : Sesto : Tito: Annio is eager, Sesto very timid. Tito still taking flight, especially on oggi mia sposa sara la tua germana!, which sounds as if he’s reciting and ode. Annio is the most natural and effective here. Wait, seriously: Erraught sang Sesto in Munich, why is she Annio here? Reason why things shouldn’t be planned too far in advance.

Del piu sublime soglio: Villazon starts it alone, which is not necessary a good idea, as he inflates sublime in a strange manner. His tone is actually not bad but he doesn’t sound dramatically involved enough – or in a manner that works for me. Maybe someone needs to pair him up with Garanca, then we’ll have two people singing it whilst thinking about how to make every note beautifully follow the other.

Non ci pentiam: Annio is trying to make the most of his predicament. He’s upset but heroic. I like Erraught’s way of going about the recit. Why is she not singing more Mozart? Servilia is also ready to fix things; these two always (ok, most times) bring a smile on.

Deh, perdona: in this case it’s very easy to tell them apart in the duet. Another aria that sounds nice enough but nothing earth shattering from Maestro.

Tito : Publio: Villazon reminds me of someone else but I can’t tell who. His Servilia, Augusta! is pretty nice – more surprised than besotted. Nice delivery from Servilia. She has such a Mozart voice! Sounds like she’s just stepped off Entfuhrung. There is a lot of stuff Tito has to say. It’s definitely the long version of the recits.

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: it’s a lot better than I expected. Perhaps because it’s naturally more “shouty”, but Villazon has the right reading. Well, I’ll be. If someone told me the most I’d enjoy Villazon would be as Tito I’d have thrown down. Or something. The truth is I wouldn’t mind listening to his ‘Fosse again.

Vitellia : Servilia: Servilia isn’t scared but makes the exchange short, nonetheless.

pre-Parto recit: Rebeka sounds fresh, with just the right amount of sarcasm, JDD not so much (there comes a time to leave Sesto behind). Rebeka needs somebody as fresh as she is for a foil to her voice acting. I quite enjoy listening to her, a very nice find as Vitellia.

Parto: hm, there is a weird energy in how JDD phrases her initial double parto, reminiscent of how Villazon did his Ah, se fosse. Interesting in a way – a sort of going forward and breaking at the same time, but also not quite fetching. What I notice is JDD’s foray lower then she is known for (though not on that potentially super sexy belta; ok, everyone should have their trademark way of doing Parto). Her coloratura is as strong as ever yet she sounds heavier or darker otherwise. My conclusion is this is far from her most exciting take on Parto.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…!: very seductive mix of threat and self satisfaction from Vitellia, I like it. Publio and Annio are rather chummy.

Vengo! Apetatte… Sesto!: of course attending live shows is exiting (sometimes deliriously so), but there is a downside: you’re really spoiled for spontaneity. I find it very hard to get in the right mood for studio recordings, where everything sounds so obviously polished. It’s a very good version of Vengo! but I’m really dying for something to go slightly awry or at least not to feel like there’s a team of engineers trying to fix whatever vocal/techinical limitations might come up and in the process, smother the life out of it all. [earth to dehggi: this is apparently live. Dehggi: is it?! No, really: is it?!]

Again and again the feeling returns that this is all (the recording in general) very competent but no much beyond that (except Rebeka’s tone and enthusiasm for the recits – she’s been robbed of a better (really live) environment for a recording of this role).

Act I finale

Hey, JDD woke up! As we know, this is the moment when Sesto can be rescued from mediocrity if things (in this case, the drama) hadn’t gone anywhere fast up to this point. I can’t shake the feeling that, in spite of JDD’s experience and long list of qualities, she’s just not Sesto at this point in her career. She can phrase and she can dose her energy for this mad scene but the emotion feels generalised instead of raw. More attention seems put into rolling the Rs than into Sesto feeling overwhelmed by what he’d got into. JDD also doesn’t sound young and scared anymore – or even just scared. Her Sesto seems rather annoyed with himself – I can’t believe I’ve fallen for Vitellia’s trick – again!

By contrast, Annio, Servilia and Publio sound engaged. When everybody gathers together, Maestro speeds proceedings up a little too much, so that the choir’s interventions of ah! sound almost glib. Rebeka comes to the rescue again. Her Tito…? is tentative, as if Vitellia is scared even to call his name as she can tell the news can’t be good. Then taci, forsenatto! has he back in control again. The choir is a bit too resigned-mournful, so the sudden brass “screams” seem overdone and it all fizzles out before you realise.

Act I conclusion: JDD a disappointment, Rebeka a very welcome find, Erraught should’ve been Sesto1, Mühlemann endearingly eager, Maestro not sold on this opera, Plachetka solid and Villazon better than I ever imagined, though far from a Tito for the ages. With so many Tito recordings on the market in recent years I’m not sure why this one ever happened, except the young gen of conductors eager to leave their mark – or at least tick the box – on Mozart. I hate to say it, but I’ll take Currentzis’ exaggerations over Nézet-Séguin’s lack of ideas any day. But maybe I’ll be more engrossed in Act II…

ps: that’s gotta be one of the poorest CD covers I’ve seen in ages. Tito’s back of the head? Seriously? And why is the standard so badly placed within the composition?

Act II

Annio : Sesto: helpful Annio 🙂 Sesto is finally alarmed. Annio doesn’t want to hear whinging, he says: wipe your boogers and focus on the fact that Tito survived!… Wait, you’ve actually done it? DUDE, WTF?… Anyway, nobody can prove anything so STOP whinging!! Sesto dithers some more but Annio shakes him. I’m gonna be the helpful friend whether you like it or not, brov.

Torna di Tito a lato: beautifully, sensitively done – with heroics thrown in.

Partir deggio…?: Sesto continues to poop his finery, Vitellia is dramatically appealing to his fidelity, he raises to the bait, she gets sarcastic. Not bad.

Publio : Sesto: Publio is no-nonsense but not cruel, almost friendly. Sesto has gathered his courage back; seems like he only falls apart with Vitellia. But he’s also quite annoyed with her. I find the harsh dramatic contrasts JDD employs a bit blunt for Mozart.

Se al volto: Sesto’s start is rather good, nice employment of soft trills. Rebeka uses similar strong contrasts as above in her delivery and although I really like the ease with which she transitions from one to another (and her incursions at the top of her voice, which is beautiful and flexible), I still don’t like such rather overblown dramatics. I think I should blame Maestro? Plachetka’s Publio is again solid.

Si grazie si rendano: the choir isn’t bad here. I wish Villazon toned it down a bit, it’s a no-shouting moment. His Tito sounds like he wasn’t even in Rome when the fire happened. Introspection = a very Tito quality.

Publio : Tito: Publio is very hush-hush. I guess this one likes Sesto. Tito doesn’t sound particularly upset by the news but uses the end of the phrase for another shouty-McShout. And yet, he can do pp – if only he thought about it more often and how this should be the basis of characterisation.

Tardi s’avvede: Plachetka’s a very honourable Publio; this is a very civilised court. Along with the hush-hush recit he uses the softest tardis in the repeats. It’s very cool in itself and very dance-y. Diplomatic Publii are a thing.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is confused, Annio barges in (also in a civilised way), Publio gets gutsy, Tito is finally crushed. His Annio, lasciami in pace! is the most heartbroken I’ve heard yet. Villazon gets points for originality. I can work with this stuff.

Tu fosti tradito: Annio for emperor! So heroic 😀 and yet there are softer moments and Erraught can spin a trill. A bit acidic at the very top but it’s that aria. Easily one of the most involved and effective Annios out there.

Tito = OMG!: finally a moment for Villazon to go all Puccini and not sound funny. It’s ok for Tito to sound on the brink of a meltdown. His delivery is pretty convincing.

Quello di Tito e il volto: this is definitely a Tito + Sesto = friendship (but possibly Publio hearts Sesto) kind of Tito. They are very balanced and dramatically more suited together than with their respective women friends. Maestro uses that rubato at the end almost as if he remembered it at the last moment.

Tito : Sesto: Sesto sounds ready to lose his shit again. Tito sounds very hurt and doesn’t try to hide it. Sesto decides to try for heroism but it doesn’t quite work (not that I think JDD wanted it to). It’s one of those it’s not you, it’s me kind of cringe-y moments. It’s also very long. There is a lot of emotional fretting being thrown about, though… at least they are both on the same page of dramatics. It’s probably more akin to how they did it at the London premiere in 1805.

Deh, per questo instante solo: this is not how I remember JDD’s voice. I don’t know how this voice is. It’s like everything else is there but it’s missing its Mozart shine. Too much belcanto? Too much soprano? It sort of doesn’t sound like a trouser mezzo voice anymore – the genderambiguous charm, the emotional youthfulness2. It’s darker, but soprano-dark. Has the centre of balance changed? Unsurprisingly, the most memorable moment is the trill up at the top of the voice (on questo cor).

Tito ponders: I like the darkly phrased vendetta… otherwise it’s a pretty straight-forward Tito. I like him but what can I do??? thinks Tito. His heartbreak is very much of the heart only. Publio tries to figure out what happened.

Se all’impero: I don’t know if sounding insecure is by design but it actually fits Tito’s reluctant decision.

Publio : Vitellia: it’s a very diplomatic conversation, neither wants to give their hand away.

Vitellia : Annio : Servilia: everybody is alarmed. Annio, as usual, wants things done already. Vitellia is still able to keep up appearances. Servilia isn’t easily fooled.

S’altro che lagrime: not sure if the continuo was needed to segues into S’altro. Mühlemann continues to sound like a very young Mozart heroine, with a beautiful top for the gioveras.

Ecco il punto, Vitellia… : Rebeka begins cold but slowly, slowly, the more she says Sesto’s name, things are starting to fall apart. Somehow she manages to sound distressed without the usual ugliness. It’s still not entirely thawed, in contrast with Sesto and Tito’s emotional wrecks.

Non piu di fiori: I guess the descent into temporary madness could be more gradually described but her use of range is the best this side of Erraught. The low G is on pieta and it’s not overly ugly but rather solid. Like with the rest of this recording, all that’s missing is some interesting ideas.

Act II finale

The orchestral sound is a bit thin but the choir is up for grandeur. Tito is more or less calm again. This is the Tito who puts benevolent into benevolent ruler. Vitellia gets low range gutsy – yes, please. La tua bonta is said in such a… casual tone, I guess, it’s surprising but not very dramatic. I mean, has she already got over the fact that Tito is BENEVOLENT? It was a big enough deal in the morning that she wanted to get him killed. Tito is, of course, not that observant, and instead he goes on declaiming about his generosity. Puppy-Sesto says he’s way touched. Tito strokes his head and gives him a kind biscuit. All is good again in the world. The women’s voices do blend very nicely. Eterni dei sounds suitably grand. Villazon suddenly gets a Kermit voice for il ben di Roma and is a bit lost in the general praising of himself. I like more presence from the male side in the big chorus moments (speaking of which, what happened to Publio?! Should we be worried?).

The conclusions from the end of Act I still stand. I was susprised not to hate Villazon, though I think it’s a very superficial reading of Tito with some nice occasional touches. I would recommend this for Rebeka, though, judging by how she started, I was expecting more from her Non piu di fiori. I’m not entirely sure how much is her fault and how much is Maestro’s, who has not impressed me at all. For Erraught I urge everyone to revisit her Munich Sesto.


  1. if young conductors want to record these things, they should employ the young gen of singers as well (here I have to give props to Currentzis again; don’t worry, we’ll be back to normal soon 😉 ). You know I like JDD (though she was never a fave Sesto) but really; people like Erraught and Crebassa and Lindsey deserve their mainstream shot at Sesto. 
  2. I had to go back to VK’s Deh, per questo with Welser-Most to try to figure out what the problem is. I think 42 year old VK’s voice has a similar density there but her colours simply sparkle in comparison. Though perhaps I’m wrong and VK solved a lot of density problems by darkening through her career so she could manueuvre colours a lot better. JDD didn’t darken and waited for real density but by then the colours (which were never on level with VK’s) had washed out? Anyway, sounds like JDD is a lot more conventional in her rendition here. The amount of rubato in VK’s version is quite striking in comparison and the use of trills is very (very) different. JDD seems to want her cadenzas at top speed and her trills tossed off with abandon, whereas VK is not afraid to put lots of breaks into the proceedings and add often shorter trills for dramatic effect rather than in that belcanto way JDD likes them. 
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Happy 227th Tito Day!

You know what I think about Tito, so I thought I’d have some guest opinions this time:

ps:

Hurrah, new Tito recording with Villa… wait, what?

The trailer is all Parto so you almost want to ask: what’s Villi doing there? I do like JDD’s a la Titus hairdo. Nice attention to detail.

Mozart Cycle – I ❤ that. Obviously Mozart worked it all out so it culminates with Tito 😉

I don’t need to reiterate how the summer festival season has blinded me to the latest Tito developments but a new CD has dropped this past July (instead of waiting for September like I would’ve).

Known quantities JDD and Marina Rebeka sing our seditious lovers. (Has JDD never recorded Sesto before? I suppose VK saturated that market for about a decade before JDD started singing soprano roles (out of frustration?)).

Then we know who Sesto’s should’ve been, no offence to JDD because we all know what JDD can do. We also know what KL + SY can do (KLSY or, with a little help, SYLK?). So the reason this didn’t happen: DVD =/= CD.

Do we think SY can sing Vitellia? I don’t trust my SY objectivity just now. Please alert me when that DVD comes out, I will write on it ASAP. They can bring their Poppea getups along.

ps: as per the comments on the above tumblr post, she was apparently slotted to sing Vitellia on this recording. Saving it for the DVD, I tells ya.

The smaller roles are impeccably cast, with Regina Mühlemann dewdrop-sweet as Servilia, Tara Erraught making much of Annio, and Adam Plachetka as the commander Publio, who sounds rather more secure than his emperor. (from the Guardian’s […]Tito – Nézet-Séguin and Villazón return)

Schwing! Haha.

Of course I feared this moment ever since I saw him as Don Ottavio. Sigh. One day I will have to actually listen – this month, even! Stay tuned.

Tara Erraught making much of Annio

Like, ha. This generation of singers are doing things all backwards. Then again, there is audio evidence of Fassbaender’s Annio.

The main idiosyncrasy is Villazón – and in this opera, where the tenor has the title role, that’s not easy to gloss over. Some listeners will find his warm, passionate portrayal of the merciful emperor an antidote to the generic, antiseptic style in which Mozart can be played today; others will balk at his expressive tuning, and wonder why he sounds as if he is limbering up for Nessun Dorma. (from same as above)

I can hear it already!

Wait, who these days plays Mozart in an antiseptic way?! I thought the trend was to spritz him up with edgy stuff.

This month, he and Nézet-Séguin will return to Baden-Baden for Die Zauberflöte; Villazón will go full Domingo and sing the baritone role of Papageno. (from same as above)

Haha! This is gold. Hands down my favourite Erica Jeal review, we’re usually at odds.

Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito: A reappraisal

nothing to do with the volume, I just like the sentiment

Progress! A new volume has appeared on Tito this past May, the third part of Stockholm Studies in Culture and Aesthetics series of monographs and edited volumes. Though the opera has moved into the mainstream, not much (of note?) has been written since Emanuele Senici’s 1997 Adapted to the Modern Stage: La clemenza di Tito in London and certainly nothing as important as Rice’s 1991 monography. You can download it here, because

Stockholm University Press (SUP) is an open access publisher of peer-reviewed academic journals and books. We aim to make journals and books affordable, and to give them the widest possible dissemination, so that researchers around the world can find and access the information they need without barriers.

Everything is better with contraltos

Yes, another contralto post this weekend. And it’s Lemieux again:

Isn’t her tone just perfect for this?!

Masterclass fans: new ROH Masterclass with JDD

Just to make me happy, it starts off with Parto. I haven’t seen it yet but I hope it’s good (almost 2 new hours). If it’s not good we can laugh about it here 😉

After watching/listening to it:

For those who don’t know and would like to before applying yourselves to an 1hr and 46min, this batch is mezzo only and it containts work on three mezzo staples: Parto, Dido’s lament and Non piu mesta (which I always call Non piu messed up). They are all promising singers but the young woman working on Dido’s lament has a particularly beautiful tone (baby contralto? we should be so lucky 😀 ). She is also very cutely star-struck.

The Mozartists (1768) (Wigmore Hall, 23 January 2018)

Classical Opera/The Mozartists
Ian Page conductor
Katy Bircher flute
Chiara Skerath soprano

Classical Opera does, as the name suggests, specialise in music of the Classical period and does it very well. You might remember my and thadieu‘s enthusiastic accounts (as well as Leander‘s) of a Cadogan Hall 2016 performance of Jommelli’s Il Vologeso – it was them that done it.

They’re also going through Mozart’s oeuvre, one year at a time. This time it’s the year 1768, when Wolfie was 12 and, opera-wise, wrote La finta semplice, here presented via its not too shabby overture and the Amoretti aria. It’s not just Mozart but a wider look at his time period as well, with works by other composers from the mid to late 18th century.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 26 in D minor HI:26 ‘Lamentatione’

Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774)
Fetonte Ombre che tacite qui sede

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Flute Concerto in D major WC79

Joseph Haydn
Lo speziale HXXVIII:3
Amore nel mio petto
Salamelica, Semprugna cara

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
La finta semplice K51
Overture
Amoretti, che ascosi qui siete

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Piramo e Tisbe Perderò l’amato bene

Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
Symphony in D minor

As expected, Classical Opera were excellent and Ian Page got a very “surround sound” from them, with a deft merging of the different sections of the orchestra whilst at the same time allowing them space to breathe and make themselves heard (quite muscular at times). In other words, the opposite of the porridge-sound.

This was one of the best attended shows at Wiggy, though the troops thinned a bit after the intermission (luckily, the tall chap in front of me was among them). Skerath excelled, I thought, at Hasse’s Perderò l’amato bene, where she used some superb light weight trilling and the aria seemed a perfect fit for her gentle soprano voice.

Ian Page chose his soloists well, the both of them in possession of particularly fine ways with the trills. Being primarily a fan of vocal music I admit I don’t always “get” solo instrumentals but in Bircher’s case something clicked. It is perhaps that all winds are up my alley as opposed to, say, the piano, but I could follow very well, in a similar way to how I would the voice.

A lovely evening that invited the listener to further explore this engaging period of Western classical music, with the last piece hinting at the things to come in further decades.

Bad night for Roschmann?

(it’s one of those old news chez dehggi moments)

From Serenade‘s account of a 2017 performance of Le Nozze at Wiener Staatsoper (the other opera house in Vienna 😉 ):

The Countess was played by Dorothea Roschmann herself an erstwhile Susanna. In my opinion she has not quite graduated yet to the bigger role and she would do well to limit her appearances as the Countess. Her Porgi amor at the beginning of Act Two was sung with beauty of tone and a quick vibrato. But her Act Three Aria Dove sono was disappointing as it lacked breath control and a sense of line. She was unable to take any of the long phrases in a single breath and there were times when the voice just did not carry forward.

She has not quite graduated?! Ehehehe. I think I’d still like to see her as the Countess even on a so-so day. Then again, I’d rather see my fave singers on their good days.

Where no other Tito production has gone

Schade looks like an aging ’70s porn star in the COC production 😀

Sesto and Vitellia in a nutshell

If you love Tito and haven’t seent Double Indemnity, do it now. If you have, revisit, it’s more than worth it 🙂