Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gratuitous Luca Pisaroni (and friends) Post – from La Clemenza di Tito

Pisaroni, Kasarova, and Schade
This 2003 performance of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito was my first exposure to:
  • Luca Pisaroni
  • La Clemenza di Tito
  • Michael Schade
  • Vesselina Kasarova

I have great admiration (sometimes bordering on fanaticism) for all four. This production was staged by Martin Kušej, and conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The cast also includes Dorothea Röschmann, Elina Garanca, and Barbara Bonney. If you haven't seen this whole performance yet, I highly recommend it. The tempos are slow and the characterizations are psychotic (DR is an over-the-top Vitellia, and LP as a prowling-for-action, much-more-sexy-and-interesting-than-in-other-productions Publio) and it's wonderful!

In this scene (Quello di Tito, e il volto), Sesto appears before Tito for the first time since the attempted assassination. Both men are shocked to see the anger and fear on each other’s faces. Publio, who always seems to be lurking around, comments on the scene. Notice only two lines are spoken “out loud, the rest being inner thoughts. 

Mozart: Quello di Tito è il volto Gratui

Charles Osborne in The Complete Operas of Mozart calls this “one of the most effective numbers in the opera.” I agree, but there are a lot of great moments, so it’s pretty hard to choose. Here is a rough translation of the text:
SEXTUS  (Is that the face of Titus? Ah, ye stars, where has his usual mildness gone? Now he makes me tremble!) 
TITUS  (Eternal gods! Are these then the features of Sextus? O how a crime can transform a face!)
PUBLIUS  (A thousand conflicting emotions are at war within Titus. If he feels such torment, he still loves him.) 
TITUS  Draw near! 
SEXTUS  (O voice
that weighs so heavy on my heart!)
TITUS  Do you not hear? 
SEXTUS  (O heaven, I feel myself bathed in sweat! O god! A dying man could not suffer more.) 
TITUS and PUBLIUS  (The traitor trembles and dares not raise his eyes.)
For some reason, when Sesto sings O Dio (he sings that a lot, which may be something to explore in another post) they translate it to O heaven, or ye stars. I don’t know who actually did this translation; but it appears un-credited in several places on the Web, including at this La Clemenza di Tito libretto link.


  1. Ah, good times!

    Pisaroni's Publio is one of the most interesting out there, as far as I'm concerned: so often this character ends up giving off a sort of stern school principal "this will go on your permanent record, Sesto" vibe, and he certainly avoids that.

    1. Yeah, usually Publio is played as an older, authoritarian kind of guy, acting maybe as an advisor. This Publio is more like a personal assistant, and he seems to view Sesto as a rival for Tito's attention (and/or affection).

    2. I wonder how big of a determining factor the singers' age is when it comes to the portrayal of their characters. This Publio is a good example, but there's also Annio, who's usually played by young mezzos (around their 30s or so), and we mostly see him as a pretty cheerful/playful youngster (Kate Lindsey in the recent Met production is a prime example, and BTW, she ruled that role)... But of course that contrasts well with Sesto, who's always the more serious one, being the tormented hero and all.

      Oh, and I'm really looking forward to some Clemenza analysis!

    3. I am hoping they "encore" that Met Tito, it was just at the wrong time of year for me to see it in the cinema.

      In the Salzburg staging, all six principles are the about the same age - their characters too (except BB) and that makes sense: Tito and Annio and Sesto are buddies from childhood (?). And it would make sense that Vitellia and Servillia would be close to the same age as the boys. Publio is the wild card. I could also see where Tito and Vitellia were a bit older than the others, I've also heard a theory were Tito is more "Mentor" than Friend to Sesto and it's time for Sesto to "move on" in sort of a Marschallin/Octavian sense.

      I kind of like the idea they could all be (and maybe were) a circle of close friends if only Vitellia would get over her "I should be Queen" thing.

      How they end up is something I want to explore in my "comparo" In at least one version, Tito pairs up Vitellia/Sesto and Annio/Servilla, then looks at Publio in sort of a resigned way. (Come to think of it that's the Zurich production with a younger Publio too) Of course in this one Tito storms out before the opera ends, And everyone just looks weary and wary. And I feel like, this is SO not over yet! everyone better watch their back, because Tito is going to REALLY lose it very very soon.

      It's interesting to see which character has the meltdown in each production. In this one its (mostly) Tito, but I've seen one (I forget which) where Sesto is the one losing it as the opera progresses. Vitellia usually seems just a few steps from sanity herself. Although she sees herself as a victim, I don't recall any director treating her as the wronged woman...

    4. You can download the Met production from here if you want (it was up on vimeo for some time too, but it got taken down). I have some problems with it (mostly Filianoti and the fact that it's the Ponnelle production), but it's well worth hearing/watching for Garanca and Lindsey.

      I mostly see Tito, Vitellia and Publio of the same age, and Sesto and Annio a tad bit younger. And Servilia... I loved Bonney in the role, so badass. For one, it's fun to see a Servilia older than her Annio, but I think it also gives another explanation for her being so strong, daring to stand up to Tito/Vitellia; she's already been through some things and she has experience in life... Don't try to mess with this lady, Vitellia, she can handle an idiotic lover and an even more idiotic brother, it's most likely not the first time she had to deal with mess like this.

      What do you think about an older Vitellia/younger Sesto though? Her being the femme fatale, seducing the innocent young guy...

      The Salzburg Tito doesn't look too forgiving either, but I think he'd let things go their own way simply because Publio would be telling him to do otherwise :D For me, his whole clemency seemed to come from opposing nearly everything that Publio advises. "You have to punish those traitors!" "Lol nope. How about forgiving them instead?"

      Isn't the Paris production with Graham and Naglestad the one where Sesto has the meltdown? I was actually a bit annoyed by Sesto being so... weak. It's a shame that the same production from the (I think) previous year with Garanca/Antonacci wasn't recorded, from the few clips flowing around on YT, she seemed to give a bit stronger Sesto.

    5. Yes, Paris is the one.Susan Graham is awesome and Naglestad is WICKED!

      I can see where Servilla and Vitellia could get into a major catfight. It makes sense for V. to be older than Sesto too. The Salzburg Tito is unforgiving, contrary, and passive aggressive, too I think. He started out as a people pleaser and now he's just resentful and cranky (and crazy)

    6. Naglestad is amazing, and also I really, really like Siurina in that production, she's just lovely (and her Ilia is wonderful too!).

      It's strange that the last time Clemenza was played in Salzburg was seven years ago - it's such an incredible production! I hope they will put it back on the program soon (and preferably have Garanca, Schade/Lehtipuu, Persson, Pisaroni and Lindsey in the cast. I would sell my soul to see that).

    7. Something else to consider is whether Vitellia should be sung by a dramatic soprano with a good lower extension, or a mezzo with a few extra high notes. Many mezzos have sung "non piu di fiori," in concert or for recordings.

      I read rumors that Mozart reused it from a concert aria or insertion aria he wrote earlier. Apparently he wrote the killer "Vengo, Aspetate" BEFORE he knew who was singing Vitellia. That may account for why it lies so much higher than the rest of the role.

      Some sopranos kind of disappoint in the lower reaches of this role. The only mezzo I have heard in the whole role was Janet Baker (on Philips). She took a few notes down in that trio (and I guess took some flack for it), but it was worth it to hear her do the role. I wonder if JDD or other mezzos would consider (or could convince producers) doing the role....

    8. Other mezzos don't really come to mind, but seeing Joyce as Vitellia would be mind-blowingly amazing, without question. And with her already crossing over to the soprano territory (with quite some success!), it might not take that much of convincing to make a producer choose her for the role... Given that she wants to perform it, of course. (I remember reading in some interview that she'd like to perform Alcina, so there may be some hope? Or just a lot of wishful thinking on my part :P)

    9. It sounds like it's time for another round of fantasy opera casting!

    10. Oh, I am so ready for that!

    11. JDD as Vitellia - OH YES YES YES. I don't even care if as a mezzo she skips the high D or whatever the hell it is in "vengo, aspettate". She sings "non piu di fiori" on her Diva/Divo CD and it's utterly killer.

    12. Conversely, in the Ensemble Studio performance of Clemenza next week Annio is being sung by a soprano, Sasha Djihanian (you might have caught her on Cardiff Singer of the World a couple of years ago). Besides being a soprano she is, er, vertically challenged which could be interesting because the Servilia in that performance is quite tall.

    13. I believe the role of Annio was actually written for a female soprano. I don't know how tall she was. But it really was written for a girl in pants. The soprano bit would also explain the altitude of Annio's 2nd aria, which some mezzos manage to sound rather shrill with. of course Annio is rather desperate that Sesto not be thrown to the lions.

      In another line of thinking, we may have to schedule a field trip to Toronto.

    14. Was Annio's role written for a _soprano_ soprano though, or is it another case of the mezzo fach not being so distinct back then (like with Cherubino)?

      I wonder how Leonard would fare as Annio, I think her tessitura lies a bit higher (if I remember correctly, she was joking about being a bit closer to a soprano than a mezzo).

    15. I am not sure, but inclined to go with the Mozart idea of soprano. Did they even HAVE mezzos back then? Meanwhile, here is a mezzo Vitelia: in Vengo Aspetate.

      I think for the drama, I could give up a high D. I think that's a G that she wails at one point, and I love how she (Vitelia, not Janet Baker) sounds totally panicked (Like Julia Varady in the Gardiner version)

      This recording features Frederica von Stade as Annio and Robert Lloyd as Publio. (also on board are Yvonne Minton as Sesto and the divine Lucia Popp as Servila - she graduated to Vitelia later)

      Here’s Varady with Gardiner – a bit faster than Harnoncourt ;-)

    16. As far as I know, no, but that was kinda my point: it was written for a soprano (or what they called a soprano in the 18th century), but it's the most comfortable for those who have the vocal range of (what we know today as) a mezzo. (I hope I'm making sense here. At 1 am, I don't think it can be expected.)

      I love the Gardiner version! Várady is fantastic, and then of course there's von Otter, Johnson and McNair (ahhh, their Idomeneo!)...

      Baker's Vitellia is very... ruling. I have not listened to the whole recording yet, but from the excerpts I've always got a feeling like she would crush Minton's sweet Sesto the next minute. Quite different from what I'm used to :D

      And Popp - I have to admit that I like her better as Servilia than Vitellia. Her "Deh, se piacer mi vuoi" is great, but "Non piu di fiori" didn't quite have the dramatic punch I would've expected.

      Absolutely non-related fun fact: I've recently discovered that Vivaldi's opera Tito Manlio has a Servilia and a Vitellia. The librettists just loved some names, I guess...

    17. That makes total sense. I think you're pretty lucid for 1 AM. Better than I will be.

    18. In our Fantasy Tito, I vote for Christine Schäfer for Annio.

  2. Interesting comments about Publio. COC have cast Robert Gleadow who is and looks quite young. Most of the rest of the cast is young too; Wallis Giunta, Mireille Asselin, Isabel Leonard, Kerri Alkema. Michael Schade would be the oldest by a ways I'd think. I'm looking forward to it a lot.

    Funnily enough, Michael came over to chat before the COC press conference on Wednesday. I'm always a bit reluctant to approach "celebrities" at events like that so it was really rather pleasant.

    1. I'm looking forward to hearing about the COC Tito. Sounds good! How cool you chatted with Michael Schade. I am not a celebrity but as a performer, I find people sometimes are shy to talk to me.

      Most celebrities are in fact nice people and enjoy chatting with fans, other musicians, and normal people (whatever Those are).

      But, like with cats, it's usually better to let the celebrity make the first approach! :)

    2. Perhaps I should consider taking a can of tuna to the next press conference.

  3. Two things I just thought about. Actually I thought about them before but never at the same time and within reach of the computer:

    1. The photo up there must not be from the same year or at least performance as the video. Notice that Publio's hair is much longer in the picture.

    2. Speaking of Servilia:

    1. After digging around the bit in the Festspiele's archives (because that's how I spend my mornings, appearently), I think they must've changed some of the hair/costume after a few performances (Sesto has a different tie, and Annio has a horrible ginger wig, but a better suit).

      And on the Servilia snippet: that just made my day and I WANT MORE. (How creepy is it to comment on a more than one year old article? I wonder...)


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