Or like me had technical difficulties, here (via stray) it is. Get it while you can!
It turns out that Super Bowl Sunday is actually a really good day to go to an afternoon performance at Carnegie Hall. When the concert lets out the streets are clear and many of the restaurants are not at all crowded; we were almost the only people on the train back out to Long Island. And none of the other passengers puked on the way! And here I was worried that the game would louse things up somehow. Having experienced the Long Island Rail Road Late Nite Post Party Local (stopping at: Puketon, Little Leering, Loud Dudes, Shrieking, Puketon Again and points east – the first four cars will NOT PLATFORM at Puketon) in the past, this felt like, as they said in the eighteenth century, Heav’n, and one didn’t even have to be killed by the Romans to ride the train.
I should offer a caveat going into this description: I slept only four hours the previous two nights, and as a result I fell asleep for a little bit of Part I. But I got the gist.
This both is and isn’t an oratorio by Franz Schubert. Schubert did begin an oratorio called Lazarus, but he didn’t finish it. The score breaks off as Mary and Martha are mourning their dead brother Lazarus – it ends on the word “and” halfway through a phrase. So, what the collaborators on this project (more information here) did was to weave together some other bits of music by Schubert and – wait for it – Charles Ives to finish the story. The director of this interesting operation is Claus Guth. Like many things Guth related, it makes more sense than it sounds like it would if you merely hear it described.
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But how does it sound? Over all, not bad. Veronique Gens’s Vitellia is
very tall very seductive. The way she handles the repetitions of “alletta” at the end of “deh, se piacer me vuoi” leave no doubt as to why Sesto finds her fascinating, and the series of silky-looking slip dresses she slinks around in don’t hurt either. Vitellia has flashes of anger – she tips over a chair at one point, but quickly dials it back when Sesto comes in – and the odd moment of vulnerability, but she’s neither supremely ambitious nor supremely nuts. The general emotional color of the performance is consistent with that domestic drama vibe I mentioned before.
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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.
I have heard La Clemenza di Tito so many times that listening to it feels like a variety of introspection – my reaction to any given performance is not simply a reaction to that performance, but also to all the other performances that I have heard. Also, it strikes me that either the advantage or the disadvantage to constant access to high-quality performances via DVD and the internet, like this one from Brussels, is that you rarely hear a truly bad rendition of anything. Sometimes one (by ‘one’ I mean ‘me’) picks nits about the interpretation, or takes issue with tempos, but I don’t actually think I’ve ever seen what I would call a truly sub-par performance of this opera.
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The silent film conceit does more than just allow for a certain amount of hand-waving. It’s sort of interesting, isn’t it, to stage an opera – an art form where the performers are right there with the audience – with reference to film, where there isn’t any contact between the two? Especially given that here the performers are often addressing the audience directly. Unulfo’s “sono i colpi della sorte” in Act I is sung more about than to Bertarido. And during Act II, Eduige’s “de’ miei scherni per far le vendette” is done almost as an aside. Rodelinda is in the room, but she’s not paying much attention, except when Eduige gets a little too caught up in it, receives a sort of “what?” look from Rodelinda, and looks embarrassed for a moment. There is an extraverted quality to all this – lots of asides, little glances or facial expressions aimed at the audience, this type of thing. You can’t get deeply drawn into what is going on because your presence is so frequently acknowledged – you’re reminded that this is being performed for you. My point isn’t that this is a bad way to stage a Handel opera, just that it’s not necessarily one calculated to hit you where it hurts.
This production of Handel’s Rodelinda remains in Italy – we see Garibaldo reading Corriere della sera in Act II – but the story has been moved to the 1920s. Rodelinda is not the queen of the Lombards here in any obvious sense. I’m not actually sure what she’s queen of. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
But there are definitely people in positions of authority here. Except for Grimoaldo, who wears some very snazzy suits, the men wear military uniforms. But lest you think hm, Italy in the 1920s and military uniforms – I wonder where they’re going with that? rest assured that this opera is not about fascism. Or, at least it wasn’t about fascism in any way that I was able to determine. If fascism is commented upon in the woods and no one is there to hear it, etc. etc.
This is the section from Act I in which Marie expresses misgivings about Jenik’s shadowy past and Jenik explains how his stepmother forced him from his home; the two reiterate their pledges of love to one another. In the background you can see the heart-shaped cookie on a ribbon, waiting for its moment to shine.
I am still smiling as I begin to write this, because this production is really an enormous amount of fun. It also takes the story seriously enough that none of the opera’s potential emotional content is lost.