Glyndebourne has posted a podcast on Tito with their current team (none of the singers, though), featuring music from the 1993 Harnoncourt recording (and not their own recording, for some reason). Usual readers aren’t likely to hear many new things but at least it’s clear that teams have left behind the old school slight embarrassment at producing Tito and are now focusing on the music (how it’s different from the other things Mozart composed in his later years) and what it’s about.
Aside from the 3 August Glyndebourne livestream (6pm London time), Tito will appear at the Proms (semi staged with the same cast) on Monday 28 August at 7pm London time. All I’m going to say about that is the broadcast will be a much better deal than the actual Royal Albert Hall acoustics.
Ah, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:
I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.
But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.
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.
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
(don’t fret, that’s not JDD as Vitellia… not yet)
It appears the tired old complaint (“Tito was written in haste”) hasn’t died a death yet. De Marchi has dedicated time and toil to the version popular at the turn of the 19th century – the one with Weigl, Mayr et all’s “bonus material” and presented it live in Innsbruck in 2013. The polished result of the revived version has now come out on CD (see the full cast).
Supposedly Tito’s arias weren’t good enough and the 1800s’ zeitgeist cried out for a Tito-Sesto duet. Well, the dehggi-geist always wanted another Sesto-Vitellia duet though the geist allows that’s not necessary feasible in a two act opera seria and an expressive Se al volto mai ti senti is almost as good. The Metastasio original contains a badass Tito-Sesto recit so I’m not sure what more a duet could add. Possibly overkill, with Deh, per questo instante solo and Se all’impero immediately after said recit. But I haven’t heard this thing yet. I like Allemano yet I’m in two minds about Aldrich. So I’ll wait – with some interest – until this appears in certain circles.
The past couple of months I skipped Titoness so here’s something I concoted a while back and never got around to posting:
One can go on elaborately when talking about what this or that opera is about – or one can boil it down to essentials by summarising each character’s arias:
Vitellia (hobby: shooting herself in the foot):
- Do as I say or else
- I’m screwed!
Sesto (excuses, excuses):
- She’s too hot to refuse
- Err, I didn’t really mean it…
Tito (Mr. self-analysis):
- Generosity is its own reward
- Happiness is honest people
- I’m a gentle chap
Annio (wise beyond his years):
- Dude, start grovelling
- Please forgive him, boss
Sevilia (not-so-secretly hates Vitellia):
- Do something, bitch!
Publio (secretly loves Tito):
- You’re too nice for your own good
A few months ago Leander alerted me the Royal College of Music was staging La finta giardiniera and you bet I couldn’t say no to early Mozart. Then everyone got busy and come the day of the show I was on my own with a wildly unreliable (at the time) Piccadilly Line.
Don Anchise (Podestà/Mayor of Lagonero): Thomas Erlank
Marchioness Violante Onesti “Sandrina” (the fake gardener): Carly Owen
Arminda (Don Anchise’s gold digging niece): Elizabeth Reeves
Contino Belfiore (Violante’s abusive ex, now engaged to Arminda): Thobela Ntshanyana
Cavaliere Ramiro (Arminda’s mercilessly rejected, continuously moaning ex): Kamilla Dunstan
Serpetta (Don Anchise’s servant, looking to marry him): Harriet Eyley
Roberto “Nardo” (Violante’s servant, also faking it as a gardener, interested in Serpetta): Kieran Rayner
Conductor: Michael Rosewell
Director: Harry Fehr
(I copied the cast listing from the informative Opera Today’s review of the performance on 3 December; judging by the pictures it looks very similar; if I am wrong in any way I apologise; the RCM site doesn’t provide a cast)
There doesn’t seem to be much getting between me and my Mozart. I will, for a while at least, associate the piercing strings from the ‘giardiniera overture with crushing every single toe unfortunate enough to find itself between me and my augellin.
For your convenience I marked the two sides of this adventure (scroll all the way down to ‘giardiniera) so you don’t have to read about the tube madness if you don’t care.
Winter Mozart Mad Dash
This time I had the questionable honour of being the person who made an entire row get up. As soon as I saw that lady – smack dab in the middle of the row – carefully fold her cardie I knew she was of the this is the way things ought to be done school of thought. Sure enough, she wouldn’t stand for tomfoolery when I asked to be allowed to pass, lecturing me there are no more free seats this way (for people wearing pirate hoodies). I didn’t back down either but the lights did and somebody I had already passed physically pushed me foreward (or, well, sideways).
Normally that would annoy me but at that moment I wisely chose my battles, namely I stumbled without remorse all over the rest of the old ladies with bad ankles (the entire row had probably said goodbye to sweet 65 in the early ’00s). They were most likely black and blue the next day and lamented, over morning coffee, youth today, no respect, no time keeping and no dress sense. Luckily good English manners meant no further reprimands. On the other hand, ladies, count yourselves lucky my dress sense included light weight trainers instead of high heels.
Well, dear old ladies (fastidious or kindly), blame whatever was going on with the Piccadilly line. TFL advised me to take Victoria to Green Park and retake Piccadilly from there but, alas, that was to be a mistake. We made good time bypassing King’s Cross due to whatever had happened there earlier but you should’ve seen my face at Green Park when the Cerberus there snapped the Piccadilly tunnel metal gate closed right in front of me. Munch’s Scream had nothing on me.
It was 6:33pm and the opera started at 7pm. We waited there for 8 excrutiating minutes. Behind me was an American with the nasal + high pitched type voice talking at a leisurely pace about her trip to Venice (so boring! apparently) whilst I was agonising over why the bloody hell Se l’augellin sen fugge had to be the first aria in the whole damn opera. If I don’t make it in time for it, what’s the point???? (overdramatic, me? Perish the thought). Then again, Dolce d’amor compagna, said the sensible side of my brain. If they don’t cut it. They do it often enough. Why let optimism gain the upper hand?! Life is suffering and midweek public transport torment etc. At that point I only persevered because turning back was more hassle than continuing.
We were let through before I could turn around to glare pointedly at the sinus challenged Venice disser. This time I only had to hop over a small child. The train pulled away as I arrived. Of course. Then more people flooded the place but I managed to squeeze into a seat (more ruthlessness) only for the train to be held there momentarily. 6:43pm. Only three stops from Green Park which means no longer than 6min provided the train makes an effort to move from point A to point B. At the next stop we were held momentarily again whilst I seethed how long do I need to cover that bloody Museums tunnel? They said the reason for severe delays was them fixing tube cars, not digging new tunnels. Though I have a sneaky suspicion it’s neither, rather it’s stopping trains momentarily for no particular reason (if they are fixing trains it means there are less trains, so no need to regulate the traffic, eh).
We made it to South Ken by 6:53pm. Another child, another jump, mad dash up the stairs and down the Museums tunnel. It seems an interminable tunnel but it actually only takes 3min to cover if you (well, I; you might be in better shape) mix sprinting and furious walking and factor in tourists stopping in dazed poses in the most inconvenient places. Shall we get out here? Oh, wouldn’t be fun? Let’s explore a little! Look, a Lamborghini. Yes, I spotted another one but who had time to snap pictures? That damn escaping augellin wasn’t waiting, was it?
Once you’re out the tunnel there is more walking (London scoffs at shortcuts) – past the Scientology temple and the Science Museum (facing each other!), then left past the imposing Royal College of Music itself with the Royal Albert Hall on your right and, at long last, the modest door of the Britten Hall. Deserted.
OMG, it’s started! and for a moment I wasn’t sure I was in the right place (were these lockers here before?). Ok, not quite started but I was the last person to arrive and the orchestra had finished tuning. I’m usually cutting it close but haven’t been this late since that time at L’Ormindo when I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the Thames in pouring rain and my main concern was getting out of the rain rather than making it to the opera. That had been tremendous fun, because the usher, looking like a Phantom of the Opera drop-out, closed the gate dramatically behind me then rushed up the stairs along with me. Stewing in squelchy boots for the rest of the show was a different thing…
This chap waves me in, the
cute kind and efficient usher smiles until she notices my seat number. It’s somewhere there, actually, she points to the other side of the auditorium. A beat as I scan her face rather than the full rows of seats separating me from my cleverly chosen spot. Do you mean I have to disturb the entire row? Gentle smile: pretty much. Well, if she doesn’t offer to keep me with her until a suitable break occurs then I have to, don’t I?
The good news is I was in my seat before the singing started and no important arias were cut. The suited chap in the next seat glared at me but he left at the interval – good, because he was taking too much space and barely clapped. Sadly he didn’t leave his progamme behind so it took me until now (thank you, Opera Today) to figure out who sang.
The production is of the quietly modern type (no flesh eating plants or plastic bag headdresses, although the madcap act II finale happens in an impressively rendered boiler room to which Arminda has cut the power). We spend most of the time in Arminda and Belfiore’s wedding tent, which gives the singers the opportunity to fiddle around with cutlery, drinks and various boxes; most of the fiddling felt soap opera natural.
Generally speaking, comedies can be easily updated and ‘giardiniera fares as well as any. It’s about a bunch of young people looking to get hitched, hopefully to the right person (whatever right means for each of them). But it wouldn’t be a comedy if things were so simple.
Violante/Sandrina (here a mysteriously disappeared NYC heiress) and Roberto/Nardo are travelling incognito and have – more or less accidentally – infiltrated Belfiore and Arminda’s wedding by pretending to be working for a Long Island Catering company (in her green apron she’d be very much at home at Starbucks).
Don Anchise, here dressed like a Long Island JR Ewing, who has organised his niece’s wedding party, has noticed the self effacing “Sandrina” and is cheerfully flirting with her. She – still in love with her abusive ex – is not interested. Even so, Serpetta (Don Anchise’s young and feisty housemaid) feels she is competition. Serpetta is of course aware of “Nardo”‘s interest in her and gladly flirts with him – for fun.
Bolshy Arminda can’t believe her luck having landed (probably more like stalked, jumped upon and secured with iron claws) a dashing, rich Count in Belfiore. Her ex (socially inferior to Belfiore) Ramiro (unbeknownst to either party, a close friend of her uncle’s) is one of the wedding guests, a rather morose one, still not over Arminda (we’re not sure why, she’s thoroughly unpleasant – but they are the opera seria characters and that is typically the relationship between lovers in that context). Reeves has the perfect attitude for the very ambitious (“I will climb over anything in order to get married”) Arminda. Her singing wasn’t bad, considering it’s a tricky role, with a lot of bombastic, elaborate phrases.
At the beginning of the opera Ramiro has just played tennis with Don Anchise, who is trying to cheer him and Sandrina up. Don Anchise does a pretty good job and so we (I!) get Se l’augellin sen fugge (not going to fall in love again) as a result. Dunstan, who was the Ariodante of the nice jaw earlier this year at RCM, has the handsome darkish tone usually associated with Ramiro and does rather well with the ‘augellin (still romantic under all that moodiness. You know I like a bit of self mockery here but I let her off the hook). Over the course of the night she was a bit underpowered if valliant in taking on the many decorations teenage Mozart has given Ramiro’s fairly elaborate arias.
Dramatically the biggest hurdle against a successful ‘giardiniera is the act II dream sequence (or whatever it is where Violante and Belfiore suddenly act mad; it’s one of those tacked on things in opera when the librettist is not sure how to solve the plot; or maybe it means they’re madly in love; they apparently didn’t know what to make of it even in Mozart’s time). Here we had Violante (still Sandrina to most) and Belfiore hang out and act kookoo in the wedding tent with a light fixture that projcts stars all over the walls. It worked well (cute, unforced all things considered) and ended when the light fixture was simply turned off. Thus it felt more like daydreaming/playing around than a randomly mad moment.
The typical Classical period comedy madcap scene is in this case usually staged in the garden at night where everybody makes out with the wrong (sometimes horribly so) partner. Here it was, as I said, done in the basement boiler room, left dark by Arminda once she’s tied “Sandrina” up to get her out of the way. It was funny enough and of course ended with Ramiro (the pompous voice of reason) restoring light and reality and a lot of shame to everyone involved.
I really enjoyed the concept, it felt fresh and unforced. We’re lucky to come across interesting concepts often here in London, even for student productions. The acting ranged from all right to the very funny Rayner as Nardo and Reeves as Arminda (Ms Prenup). Carly Owen in the title role had excellent recit skills, with a real feel for Italian phrasing. The best singing of the night – smooth and self assured – belonged to Erlank as Don Anchise. The orchestral side wasn’t earth shattering but nice enough and tempi were kept brisk.
Another good Mozart idea for students is, I think, Lo sposo deluso, as it’s got a lot of Mozartness to it and it’s short (and they could do something mad with the staging). Maybe coupled with Der Schauspieldirektor? (which I missed at Grimeborn this year). In any case, yay for silly Mozart!
PS: the Piccadilly Line is back to normal.
What better opera to see in Paris on the anniversary of Mozart’s death than Don Giovanni? Last night thadieu and I caught the premiere of the first (I think) revival of the recent TCE production.
Don Giovanni: Jean-Sébastien Bou
Donna Anna: Myrtò Papatanasiu
Donna Elvira: Julie Boulianne
Don Ottavio: Julien Behr
Leporello: Robert Gleadow
Zerlina: Anna Grevelius
Masetto: Marc Scoffini
Commendarore: Steven Humes
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer | Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Choeur de Radio France
Director: Stéphane Braunschweig
My records say I have seen Don Giovanni every year for the past 3. The first was the first 😉 , the second because of Röschmann and the third because I was going to be in Paris anyway so why not?
This was my first experience of TCE and wow, what a welcoming venue! It has immediately skyrocketed into my top of opera venues. Thadieu (read her take here) and I combined sightseeing with opera going (which, as usual by now, turned into a mad dash up the Champs Elysées Christmas Market when we realised we were running out of time) and so I decided to take the opportunity of shooting night time pictures of Paris and possibly having to put the camera in storage at the venue. But no, the Cerbers waived us in and the announcer asked us not to use flash and that was that. Go TCE!
I really enjoyed the very relaxed atmosphere, although, acoustic-wise I don’t know that we got the best deal, positioned as we were above the orchestra. Now I am aware that one’s first time at a venue includes a period of adjustment. You might want to check thadieu’s account in regards to the orchestral playing in general. We did agree Cercle de l’Harmonie (same period ensemble who played for Rhorer’s TCE Tito two years ago) was very good in itself. However, from where we sat Rhorer got a very loud sound out of them (the strings, of course, but the flute as well). A period ensemble, loud?! This is why I think it might have been the seats rather than the orchestra per se. The fact that both thadieu and I thought it was too loud (every singer was at times covered) at least vindicates my ears.
Then again, every time I’ve heard Don Giovanni live I thought the conductor was too energetic to begin with. Usually things settle and they did here as well though still, due to our positioning or whatever, occasionally the singers were covered. Another issue I had, confirmed later by thadieu’s friend Albena, was Rhorer’s rather rigid manner. At the beginning a lot of the orchestral detail was lost (= smudged) because he seemed very interested in a martial sound and an overly quick pace. I like a leisurely pace all in all for Mozart. The worst offense last night was Fin ch’han dal vino, which was so fast and choppy that for me it expressed nothing. It wasn’t even ugly, it was just noise.
Which brings us to the comedy in Don Giovanni. There is comedy in this – again, agreeing with Albena – efficient production but it’s not quite at the forefront. Don Giovanni himself is played as a rather sarcastic more than nihilistic dude, very well acted by Bou. He likes his fun and he is unapologetic until the end but he doesn’t overthink it, like his current ROH counterpart. In fact, though the production looks modern, it is very traditional in spirit. The Don is a cad, Donna Anna and hubby are so buttoned up they feel “English”, Donna Elvira genuinely cares for the Don and Zerlina is no innocent lamb.
In this context I felt the fast and ugly Fin ch’han dal vino stuck out like a sore, self hating thumb. Bou went with what the conductor wanted (and vocally didn’t make a strong impression one way or another) but I felt in other instances Rhorer did not help his singers when they perhaps wanted to express things that did not fit the tempo imposed.
Either by personality or design, Papatanasiu fared better when it came to this, she being the only one who could or was allowed to do her own thing. Boulianne, by contrast, was thwarted by Rhorer in Donna Elvira’s Ah, chi me dice mai. I could tell she did go for some sensitive phrasing yet the orchestra inexorably marched on. Some mismatch with the orchestra happened in Leporello’s Notte, giorno fatticar, but considering it was at the very beginning it was hard to tell who was at fault.
Then we had Humes’ curious Commendarore. As thadieu said, one expects the floor to rumble when he goes Don GIOVANNI! but he sounded like an electric guitar after the plug was pulled out of the amp. I doubt he’s a bass or even bass baritone.
My favourite of the night was Boulianne as Donna Elvira. Though the production called for a very soft hearted, even kittenish Elvira, she carried the concept very well. How often is Donna Elvira the girlier one these days? Very rarely. This is my first time seeing this take. It worked for me, though I know thadieu said she didn’t get it. She’s quietly strong rather than whip-cracking furious and quite probably – of all of Elviras – the least likely to thrive when she joins the convent at the end (if she actually goes through with it, which I doubt; I think this one will get over the Don, judging by her determination to leave him to his fate after she lasts pleads with him to mend his ways).
Vocally, though already a bigger, rounder voice than usually heard in Mozart, Boulianne has a plump mezzo tone I enjoyed a lot, as I did her forays into detail (when the orchestra dind’t cover or outright veto them). I don’t know what else she is singing these days but I am interested to hear more.
I also don’t know that Donna Anna in this specific production is the best option for hearing Papatanasiu live for the first time. Like I said she was the one who had enough experience and drive to go her own way without buckling to the orchestra in her arias, and that allowed her more expressivity, but her top is an acquired taste. Also I habitually don’t care about Donna Anna. I don’t condone the Don’s actions and I do get (better even: know) that desire is irrational but I simply don’t feel her as a character.
I did think having her and Don Ottavio act so buttoned up (in her case, literally, as she wears a suit for most of the opera which makes her look like a company exec) was astute (also helps that she can carry a suit with the best of them). These two duty bound people are faced with raw lust and they don’t quite know what to do about it. In that sense keeping the moralistic ensemble in the finale fit. For once I felt like they will from now on pretend nothing ever happened and continue their typical upper middle class existence.
Zerlina and Masetto were rather well acted, with a good amount of charisma and comic skills, and likewise sung. Here Masetto is less a country bumpkin and gets just what is happening. In La ci darem la mano Zerlina is not even trying to be coy, rather she wants to find out just how much she can get out of the Don. Later we had a scene with her abusing Leporello that I had not seen before, so I figure it usually gets cut. I didn’t think it added anything to the story, on the contrary, but it allowed Grevelius and Gleadow some more stage time.
Gleadow’s Leporello was more to my liking than Alex Esposito’s. The hard done by thing comes off well and so does the comedy, such as it is. Vocally I expected him to be shouting but he was fine, even put in some soft singing. Now keep in mind I had the opposite problem with singers last night. The Catalog aria was all right (here was, curiously, a moment when Rhorer went for slowness and I like a bit of spritz) but someone decided to loudly boo it/him. Thadieu suggested it could have been the production, which had him undressing a doll and “molesting” it. I didn’t think that was an offence to taste…
All in all a mixed bag but a very enjoyable night due to the added fun of the surroundings (my first time in Paris as an adult), TCE and, last but in no way least, the enthusiastic company of thadieu and Albena. So, yes, I’ll be keeping an eye out for TCE productions.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
It was a very curious night. It contained curiosity, boredom, amusement, frustration, appreciation… The biggest culprit was Bychkov. Per pieta, Mr., LET’S.MOVE.ON! You know I normally like my Mozart not too fast but Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, Per pietà was excrutiating. It felt like it lasted about 2 months longer than it should. I know it’s supposed to be slow but I’m sure not THAT slow. The last time I got bored during Mozart was when Villazon sang Mio bel tesoro. It wasn’t Winters’ fault. She is a good singer and worked with what Maestro gave her, which was cruel and unusual. That being said, the versions on youtube vary quite alarmingly in length, so perhaps Bychkov isn’t the only one who likes to roast his Fiordiligis.
Fiordiligi: Corinne Winters
Dorabella: Angela Brower
Ferrando: Daniel Behle
Guglielmo: Alessio Arduini
Despina: Sabina Puértolas
Don Alfonso: Johannes Martin Kränzle
Conductor: Semyon Bychkov | Orchestra and Choir of the ROH
Director: Jan Philipp Gloger
His tempi were super slow throughout. We were forewarned by the early start time (6:45pm). His conducting, in my opinion, wasn’t necessary heavy (which I feared) – though it wasn’t light either, so if he decides to conduct Tito we might still get heavier voices – so not necessary heavy as much as lacking in that quicksilver touch necessary for Mozart. It felt somewhat middle-aged, as if reacting a second (or two) too late to the joke.
Now I know that a very important thing about Così is it’s not simply a comedy. There is a surprising amount of pshychology being explored. There is darkness and moments of realisation that make us pause. But not THAT long. So in Bychkov’s defense, yes, we did pause and we did think of the implications of what was happening. But it would’ve been nice to have some tunes with that as well, because – perhaps in a clumsy effort at presenting detail – we had, here and there, a random instrument stick out for no apparent purpose, sometimes after pregnant silences.
But since there will be much ranting ahead, let me first talk about the best bit, vocally. It was Ferrando’s Un’aura amorosa. I had never heard Behle before, but I can see why ROH has booked him quite a bit. He sang most of it softly and carried on from p to ppp outstandingly. Bychkov eventually had him throw in some marked contrast, which I thought was unnecessary and broke the atmosphere. It felt like going from pppp to FF within the same aria, which is something I doubt Mozart wrote. But those ppps were exemplary, hands down the best singing of the evening. Also, a lovely voice.
A word to the now reoccuring booers at Mozart productions: do you realise how difficult it is to get Così right? Very. Just check the recent Aix production and weep in horror. The ROH production did very well with the tricky makebelieve issue. There’s a lot to it, but I will give you just one example: Fiordiligi sings that exhausting Per pieta on a stage within the opera which Don Alfonso has concocted for the purpose of seducing the ladies. It’s a typical 18th century bucolic tableau (woods, stream etc.) – though the production is set nowadays. Whilst she realises she’s not exactly a one night stand kinda girl, all the bucolic elements start to disappear. Later on, after having found out about Dorabella’s betrayal, Ferrando sings of his sorrow on the now deserted stage within the opera. All this is ace. There’s a lot of pretense but there are also real feelings seeping through the pretense.
Another thing seeing it in the house made me realise is that it’s not just love and sex being discussed here. It’s also friendship, with the lovely warmth and easy camaraderie as well as its pitfalls of peer pressure, competition, losing face, feeling like a stick-in-the-mud. This was well carried over by the singers/production.
But although I was pleased with the general idea of the production, certain details didn’t pan out very well. For instance, I felt all of Dorabella’s scenes were misses. I don’t know why it’s so difficult. The woman is a ditz and she’s simple. Really, there isn’t much more to it. Fiordiligi is the brains of the operation, such as it is (she’s no Harvard material either but at least she has a conscience). Dorabella is lovable in her naivete, you know she doesn’t mean to cause harm; she just can’t help herself.
Well, what do you do with Smanie implacabili!!!? You pretty much have her throw a tantrum. Here it felt like they didn’t know what to do with Brower for most of the aria. The ending, when she gets on the table and finally has everyone’s attention, tries to be sexy and feels a bit self conscious was good. But leading up to that they just had her flail her arms about with no particular purpose in mind. There was also no purpose to the singing as far as I was aware.
My benchmark Smanie is Nikiteanu’s from way back when in Zurich. The woman just knows how to do ditz, tantrums, hormones and comedy in general. She might not be the most suavely detailed singer out there, but you sure can follow purpose in her singing (check it out). With Bower’s I just couldn’t feel any dramatic detail, the lines were just pushed out randomly and if you didn’t know the aria beforehand you probably thought she was just shouting unintelligibly.
I think it’s quite obvious I had a big problem with Brower’s Dorabella through the night. I know this is her debut at the ROH but I think it’s a mistake. She needs to bring another role pronto on this stage and forget all about this one. I don’t want to sound like a(ny more of a) horrible person, but is she really a mezzo? Because between her and Winters, and especially in their duets, I could’ve been fooled by who was the mezzo and who was the soprano. Maybe it’s part of this Così switcheroo thing… My other encounter with her was Annio in that Cirque du Soleil Tito from Munich (2014) and I liked her there. But Annio is a bright, high lying role. Stick with Annio, lady.
Because, what happened to E amore un ladroncello? Sigh. I love that aria; it’s of the same sort as Se l’augellin sen fugge, cute and silly. Who knew cute was difficult to do? Apparently it is and it’s a mystery to Bychkov as well. Check out Ziegler’s fantastic acting under Ponnelle’s guidance (hey, I don’t just bitch about the man!). That’s the essence of Dorabella and there’s the quicksilver non so che I was talking about earlier. Notice I am giving you Harnoncourt conducted Cosis so you can’t fault me for comparing slow with fast. And that’s a mezzo voice.
I don’t care how dark you want to go (and this time it wasn’t that dark), Dorabella is the comic relief, always. She’s more lighthearted than all the others. Another thing I noticed was that the men were a lot more clearly differentiated in their personalities from the getgo. For quite a while both women seemed very similar. I think you can start to have them react in their own way right from the start, have Dorabella a little more interested in what Despina says instead of all of a sudden say she has already made up her mind about the brunet. Like, where did that come from? Dorabella had an independant thought?!
In spite of all this, I did appreciate the last scene here – Dorabella really wants Guglielmo now and they need to pull her off him. That was good and Brower was funny and even a bit clumsy. Too little, too late, though.
Winters as Fiordiligi was consistently good. She has an alluring fullness to her voice, with a good middle and quite a bit of power, well focused, very good range. I don’t know that it’s a Mozart voice, but there is agility for those jumps in Come scoglio. She didn’t wow me like Behle but was possibly more consistent than him. It’s fun that Fiordiligi’s ethos is that of an opera seria primadonna. She’s the one who struggles most with this love/duty dichotomy. I’m not sure that her arc was as well resolved here as Dorabella’s. It’s really difficult to overcome that devotion to duty in world of much looser morals than that of opera seria.
The others were fine. I’m not sure I quite get Puértolas or – for all my love for a good snarkfest – could ever reach Despina levels of cynicism (probably a good thing) but she seemed to enjoy herself a lot. Arduini sounds exactly as you would expect Guglielmo to sound, no more, no less. Kränzle had the level of charisma needed to run the farce and not come off completely detestable. In fact, Don Alfonoso merely appeared reasonable in this production.
Since this is an opera where people interact closely a lot, you might wonder why I didn’t say anything about the ensembles. Well, aside from Soave sia il vento, where Bychkov’s and my sensibility momentarily met – and the singers blended worth the stage they were singing on – the others didn’t particularly stay with me, though I think the Act I finale felt hectic. Did you notice there are a lot of arias/duets/ensembles about the wind in Mozart?
So let me conclude by saying it was a funny evening; I and the rest of the audience laughed often (it helps that it’s a snarky libretto). But a long one, too. Normally I like to take a stroll after the opera but tonight I wanted to go straight home and bitch about it 😉 If you’re not put off by the writeup, the production is still running or you can check it out at the cinema next month. But I’d wait for the more accessible places for a look at the production.