This production of La Clemenza di Tito is available on YouTube. (Warning: no subtitles.) There are reasons to watch this. There also reasons to avoid it.
(Previous section here.)
I was looking forward to Malin Hartelius as Elvira, because one, I had seen a review of this DVD in which the reviewer said something along the lines of “Malin Hartelius IS Donna Elvira” and seemed to be very excited about it and two – well, Malin Hartelius, right?
(Previous section here.)
The concept of this production is used to really interesting effect at several points. One of my favorite partes is “batti, batti, bel Masetto,” which Zerlina (Martina Janková) sings not to Masetto, but alone. She’s at the bar and looks genuinely sad – the aria is not a wheedling “you’re not really mad, baby, are you?” number but rather an expression of frustration.
I was tempted to begin by saying that someone who had never seen Don Giovanni before would find this production confusing, but on reflection I don’t actually think that this is the case. There are some moderately confusing elements – I will make an attempt at explaining the woman in white and the three plum-sized rocks of compassion later on – but these are not obtrusive or disruptive.
(Previous section here.)
I found myself enjoying Rameau’s music more than I did Lully’s from a few weeks ago. It felt as if there were a little bit more color and variation in the orchestral writing. I noticed this with the woodwinds, e.g. with the bassoons during the ballet of the “Incas” section, as well as in the opening music to “les sauvages” and in bits of “le Turc généreux” — although some day I would like to find a French baroque opera that doesn’t have a “storm” bit in the music or make use of a wind machine. Please?
First of all, a slightly unusual sort of pattern is emerging with regard to university library DVDs of French baroque operas. Every single one I have checked out has been missing the booklet. Other DVDs have their booklets. But these do not. If there is someone collecting them, I would really like to hear the explanation for this.
(Previous section here.)
Hartelius is capable of doing some really wonderful things with this role. She does a lot of them here – “Welche Wechsel . . Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose” for example, particularly the last section after 5.20 or so, has some lovely and expressive phrasing in it.
(Previous section here)
This production is intended to be humorous. I think. There are the aforementioned loathsome buffa persons, for one thing. And there are various little gags that have a tendency to fall flat, e.g. when it’s midnight in Act II and the men are waiting for the women Pedrillo brings out a tiny little piano and plays the sound of a clock chiming the hour. I’m not sure whether the audience was supposed to laugh, but they don’t. I didn’t.
Based on some of the things that come up in the search stats for this blog, there are some folks out there with a serious not-entirely-musical thing for Malin Hartelius. So, for those people, I will tell you right now that if it will make your week to see a slightly sweaty Malin Hartelius sing “Martern aller Arten” while wearing a pink corset, this DVD is for you.
This isn’t a DVD but rather a copy of (I think?) a live broadcast from the Zurich Opera in 2003. It’s pretty fantastic.
The staging is simple – a series of blue walls and wooden doors that look perfectly appropriate for Turkey in the eighteenth century. Costumes are eighteenth-century, with Belmonte (Piotr Beczala, who has one of those faces that somehow goes with wearing a white puffy wig) and Pedrillo (Boguslaw Bidzinski) in very nice pink suits and the women in dresses – Konstanze’s is a little more “Turkish.”
[part one here.]
This production has a way of leading you away from the opera, to the point where it is often a little startling when the opera reappears. The beginning of Act II is perhaps the best example of this. The act begins with a burst of ululation — I think that’s what it’s supposed to be — from some of the actors, who are veiled in white, and then the scene moves into a sequence of more ney and percussion music and some dancing. A young woman in a fatigue jacket throws the blue book Selim had earlier into the fountain in anger. One of the others fishes it out again. Selim gives a reading of either poetry or philosophy from a different book that he carries about with him, and the sense is again that there is a story unfolding here quite independent of the one we are used to following in the opera.
It is a curious fact that I managed to write nearly 1200 words about this production without actually saying anything about Malin Hartelius, who sings the role of Sophie. This will not do at all. I got distracted by Stemme’s voice and Kasarova’s acting, but this does mean that Hartelius’s performance was not worth hearing.
[part one and discussion of the production here.]
The Marschallin in this production is Nina Stemme, who I had heard before on DVD as Aida. Aida is not my favorite opera by a long shot, and this may have caused me not to register how nice Stemme sounded. But she has what I would call the perfect sort of voice for the Marschallin.
This DVD turned out to be a good idea. Both because it’s a very enjoyable performance, and also because watching this production made me realize a few things about Der Rosenkavalier that I hadn’t thought about before.
So, the other day I came across (never mind how) a comment that was appended to a review of that Zurich production of Cosi fan tutte where Fiordiligi bites it in the last two minutes. The review was on this website that had to do with Cleveland, Ohio, because — as it turns out — the orchestra for that particular Zurich performance was the Cleveland Orchestra. I have never been to Ohio, but the evidence suggests that they are no slouches in Cleveland, as far as orchestras go.
The commenter was furious with the concept of the production. The ‘zinger’ at the end (at least, I suspect it was intended to be a ‘zinger’) was that this type of production was the equivalent of “painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.”
Mozart’s opera is not so fragile that one dead Fiordiligi is going to spoil it for everyone, forever. And, given that a significant amount of the plot of that opera involves false moustaches — well, let us just say that the conceptual problems wrapped up in that comment operate on several levels at once.
It put me in mind of a comment someone made on a video I put up (because I liked it) of the “Eboli’s Dream” ballet from that one production of Don Carlos. An individual named Edward saw it and disliked it immensely – he called it “vulgarity.”
There seems to be a certain flavor of opera fan who really hates this kind of thing. I am not sure why. It reads to me as if killing poor Fiordiligi (what do you call someone named Fiordiligi for short? Fiori? Didi?) offends some people on a sort of . . .basic decorum level. They find it both annoying and a little bit embarrassing. It’s as though if certain boundaries are not set, no one is going to take music seriously.
It is probably unfair of me, however, to mock Edward and the author of the Cleveland Zinger. I imagine there are things that you could do to Mozart’s operas that I would have that very same reaction to, although I can’t right now think of what those things would be.
Apparently a lot of people go cruising the internet looking for Malin Hartelius. I can understand this. She sounds nice. And, also, she has (at least to my ear) a very euphonious name. I’m thinking I should just end all of my entries with a repetition of it. Sort of like an operatic equivalent of ‘namaste.’
Sometimes I have a look at what search terms lead people to find me. Yesterday the winner was ‘malin hartelius’ (I get a little spike in traffic whenever I mention Malin Hartelius. I am not sure why her more than anyone else, but this is the pattern. So. Dear Internet: MALIN HARTELIUS).
Today the winner in terms of ‘I would not have expected that set of search criteria to lead here’ was: ‘bo skovhus wife’
Whoever you were, I hope you found out who Skovhus is married to, if he’s married. I don’t know myself so I can’t help you there, but, well, vaya con dios.
“Per pieta” is one of those arias that doesn’t have an immediately recognizable melody like, say, “Dove sono” or “Martern aller Arten”. There are large stretches of it where the effectiveness really depends on how it’s phrased (and on the singer having very good intonation). With the eternal caveat that I know jack shit about singing, I have the impression that a performer is a little more exposed singing this than she would be with some other things.
Here are two versions of it. This is Malin Hartelius and this is Miah Persson from that Salzburg/Guth Cosi. In terms of quality of sound, I prefer Persson’s voice to Hartelius’s. It’s slightly more rounded and golden. (These are terrible descriptors, but it’s the best I can do.)
So, I am going to talk a little bit more about Cosi fan tutte. I have a working theory about how I like this opera to go, and I think what I prefer is a production that allows for the sort of goofy sweetness that prevents the story from being utterly revolting but at the same time doesn’t verge into the saccharine. That is why I like the ending to the Zurich 2009 version, where Fiordiligi accidentally drinks poison and dies, or the ending to the Berlin 2002 version where they all sit there staring at one another in the girls’ now trashed apartment. There has to be a little tartness – a little bit of detachment.
That Zurich version nails this quality. Much of this is due to to Martina Jankova (Despina) who has a voice that I think I might not enjoy in another context, but who is very effective here. You understand perfectly why Despina does what she does, and you sympathize with her up to a point, but she is still a real pain in the ass. Here is “che vita maledetta” through “che silenzio!” Dorabella (Anna Bonitatbus) is the one in beige and Fiordiligi (Malin Hartelius) is in white. (These two are wonderful at stealing scenes from one another – see also Come scoglio. Also, recalling Isabel Leonard’s Dorabella the other night, I think this opera works better when both the sisters are sung by women who are at least, say, 35. Not only because opera singers tend not to truly hit their game until their thirties, but also because women that age do better at spoofing the mannerisms of younger women.)
But it’s also the way this production manages to ride that fine line between goofy and serious without veering into either silly or maudlin. I think I would also be up for a production of this that went for dry, stilted and clinical (which is sort of what Guth was up to, but I kept getting distracted by the trees) but I’m not sure I would enjoy that as much. In the Zurich version we are never pulled into too much sympathy with any particular aspect of the story, but we’re never shoved out of it, either. Here is “una donna a quindici anni” and “prendero qual brunettino” (watch how the music turns into stage directions once they leave the table), and “amore e un ladroncello”. Dorabella is seriously messing with Fiordiligi, as siblings will do, and it’s quite funny. (The fruit ‘sculpture’ on the table is the result of Guglielmo’s antics during “donne mie” a scene or two earlier).