I am trying to figure out whether I have anything to say about that slightly odd 1991 production of Clemenza that I mentioned before.
There is an odd vibe to the whole thing because although this was performed live at the Glyndebourne festival, they didn’t tape it live — they taped it separately, so the hall is empty. There are no audience noises, which is just . . . strange.
They went for ‘classical’ here. Sort of. The walls are decorated with typical Roman interior paintings. The costumes range from quilted robes and breastplates for Sesto and Annio (there is something unpleasant about breastplates with nipples) to togas for Publio and Tito (we are treated at several points to Philip Langridge’s armpit hair; I am so used to seeing bare arms on women but not men onstage that it’s startling, but not in a bad way) to toga-style formal gowns for Vitellia and Servilia.
The floor is uneven, the point of which is probably fairly obvious, and there is this large flying saucer thing in Tito’s apartments, the point of which is rather less obvious.
Anyway. I think what I find interesting about all of this is not the performance itself but the impression of datedness that I get from it. There is a severly stilted quality to this whole thing. It isn’t that the performers aren’t up to the roles; far from it. It’s something else. The direction tends to dump people on stage and just kind of leave them there, as in the “vengo . . .aspettate” trio. The production seems uncomfortable enough with the homoerotic quality that the requirements of casting always bring to this opera that Sesto’s vulnerability to Vitellia’s manipulation is unconvincing and Servilia and Annio are even less interesting than usual.
The stiltedness may be deliberate. It may be that what they are going for here is ‘abstract’ and ‘classical’ and ‘stylized’ as a way of confronting the very stiltedness of the story (for a modern audience, at least). Embracing the clunkiness, as it were. I’m not sure that this is a good idea, but it’s not unreasonable as a concept. Rather than trying to make it into a story that is going to work for a modern audience, it confronts you with the fact that it definitely isn’t, and leaves you to deal with that. Fair enough, I suppose.