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A point about the overture, and the orchestral playing in general. The conductor is Ludovic Morlot, and he has things to say with this music. The overture felt measured, precise and clear, and there was a similar kind of mellowness or ease in the solo clarinet during “parto, parto.” At several points I was hearing things that I hadn’t heard or at least hadn’t focused on before, like the attacks in the lower string parts during the “vengo – aspettate – Sesto!” trio or the way the flute part follows Servilia in her first lines of the duet with Annio in Act I. Whoever was operating the basset horn during “non più di fiori” also got in the odd moment of pretty phrasing, although there was a bit of a “toot toot toot” quality to it at the beginning.
But I was most struck by Publio’s “tardi, s’avvedi” in Act II, which orchestra and singer (Alex Esposito) took at what felt like a pretty brisk clip. It sounded interestingly minuetty, and the repeated ONE-two-three-four-five-six ONE-two-three-four-five-six pattern with the double bass on one and the viola and second violins doing two through six leaped out really clearly, as did a lot of the little trills and turns int he violin parts towards the end. This aria is sort of weird, isn’t it? (Then again, there are a lot of weird moments in this opera, where the music does things you wouldn’t necessarily expect – which is of course the reason it’s so awesome.)
At any rate, to the extent that there is an “am I hearing new things here” test for this opera, Morlot and the Monnaie orchestra certainly passed it.
Probably the best way in to the concept of the production is via that opening scene where the staff unmake the room, split the bed, and hand Vitellia those flowers. This is not the final appearance made by the flowers. They are on the floor during Act II and naturally she picks them up during “non piü di fiori” – we see the beginning and the end of Vitellia’s hopes. She doesn’t come up with them herself; they are handed to her. The activity of the staff and the brief but exciting career of Vitellia’s flowers suggest that all the drama is somehow managed, or manufactured. The whole story unfolds in the same room, and sometimes the way the stage direction has the characters sitting around looking silently annoyed with one another suggests a domestic drama, as does the fact that the big visual signifier of disorder is a messed-up bed.
But it’s not entirely domestic – in addition to those rumplers of sheets and overturners of chairs, Tito appears to have other staff who belong specifically to him. They take dictation from him during “se all’impero” and putter about with laptops and smartphones in Act II. There’s also a maid who brings Tito coffee. The general impression that I get is of something managed and slightly artificial – these people are stuck with each other in a physical and maybe also emotional space that feels rather small.
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