Thursday, November 14, 2013

La Clemenza di Tito (Part 2: Personal Drama Played Out in Public)

Act 2 Finale
In some productions, Sesto is on the verge of a nervous breakdown (same for Vitellia and Tito, too, in other productions.) I think this Sesto is just a wimp. Anna Bonitatibus sings and acts gorgeously, but all I want to do is slap Sesto and sign him up some self-esteem classes. 

Kurt Streit portrays the Tito’s stress and exasperation, but sounds strained. (Actually most tenors do. It must be true that Mozart hated tenors. The slow rising of standard concert pitch over the years can’t take total blame for the awkward tessitura of Mozart’s tenor roles.)

Véronique Gens conveys Vitellia’s anger and frustration. She plays “mean” very well; I suppose it helps that she towers over Sesto (VG is what, six feet tall?) However, the role (another nearly impossible one to sing) ultimately lies a bit low for her. I’d love to hear more mezzos do this, even though a few bits do go too high. (Joyce, DiDonato: are you listening?) It worked for Janet Baker, with just a few tiny alterations. I read that Vengo, aspetate was written before WAM met his prima donna, which I think explains why Vitellia’s tessitura in this trio is in no way related to the rest of the role.)

And what about Publio? This is the first production where I’ve noticed Publio (Alex Esposito) getting really annoyed with Tito—exasperated, even. Every time the situation gets interesting, Tito tells him to get lost. Publio misses out on a lot of the juicy conversation, but he does not go willingly. And instead of singing his little “throw-away” Act 2 aria to Tito, he passive-aggressively sings it to the rest of Tito’s staff, as if to say, “Do you see what I have to put up with?”

I really liked the use of the extra cameras in this production and the how their images were projected on the big screen. It makes it feel like the press is there, following Tito’s every move. In Act 2, we can see the “offstage” cameras, and they become part of the drama, as they move in to photograph the crime scene. At one point, Tito even waves one cameraman away as he tries to zoom in on Tito’s anguish. The chorus adds to this feeling of drama played out in public: they generally appear as an audience, rather than participants. In Act 2, they even take their places in theater seating, settling in to watch and see what Tito and his neurotic cohorts are going to do next.

So, in this production, the three secondary characters seem to be the ones that make the drama happen, while the three primas just get stressed and feel sorry for themselves. It’s an interesting way of looking at the story. It’s not quite an operatic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead scenario, but it’s close. This doesn’t make the performance less interesting, it just makes it different, and I found it a refreshing way to revisit this work. Watch it on the La Monnaie website till the end of November.

Related Posts
La Clemenza at La Monnaie (Preview)

Servilia and Annio (Review, Part 1)


  1. Thank you for your review! I watched this yesterday, and I found the video projection on the top on the stage very effective: sometimes picking up details on the floor (like the knife), showing the main characters or panning up for a top down view of the stage. Cool!

    I saw in August a Don Giovanni from a Finnish New Opera Company. The singers were shooting themselves and each other with mobile phone cameras while singing, and the feed was shown on two screens at the top of the stage. It was fun in a very chaotic way, but didn’t contribute to any overall vision, in the way this Tito did.

    BTW. The director of the Don Giovanni production I mention above gave an interview, where his said that he wanted to renew the opera totally. The only thing that didn’t need update according to him was Mozart’s music…

    1. Thanks for your response. I am glad you enjoyed this performance too. I have seen mobile phones in quite a few operas lately. Including at least two Don Giovannis where Leporello whips his out for the catalog aria!

  2. I sure hope JDD is listening - she would be a hell of a Vitellia!

    I have every intention of watching this production this weekend, if my internet will cooperate . . .

    1. Fingers crossed, and lighting a candle for your internet!


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