la clemenza di tito @ NEC

one full year after the smashing success of Orfeo ed Euridice, the NEC presented another favorite white-shirt opera to the near full house: Mozart’s last opera La Clemenza di Tito.  I was a little worried upon learning of the presence of “narrators”.  My only guess for having these is to reduce the amount of text the NEC students/singers have to memorize so they can focus on their arias?  In contrast to the last (painful-for-td) narration event from high podium, the female narrative voice to my right was JUST right in dramatic intensity (I very impressed actually), so for the most part it worked out just great.  That said, I enjoyed the finale of Act 1 and whole Act 2 much more for several reasons:  the orchestra seemed to come more alive and there was much more interaction/recitatives instead of narration.  The problem with jumping right into an aria after “attempting to act” the part while someone else narrated is that the flow of thought/movement is chopped up and, to my perception, affected how the arias were delivered, i.e., in academic context vs as part of a flowing/developing story line…

td's absolute non-musical Parto-start chart

td’s musical-clueless Parto chart

So, several points to cover: the “staging/setting”, the orchestra, and the singers. First up, orchestra. Based on experience from last year, i was VERY looking forward to hearing the music under direction of Stephen Lord. Same as last year and through this night, i quite convinced he can get the orchestra to do EXACTLY what he wants, which brings us to the overture + accompaniment during “come ti piace imponi” (link is to my fav version from Madrid of course :-)), and especially the first 20sec of “Parto”, in all cases I thought the orchestra was too timid (??).. In fact, was so puzzled by how “Parto” started, i went back to reliable youtube and listen to some 30 various versions and have now come up with a 2×2 checkbox of how conductor/singer choose to do this by intention (see left).  And example of what I mean (focus on only the first 20sec, though listening to rest is entirely recommended and optional): (1)=the only way i thought it should be 😉

clip1b (<– in fact i once had a discussion w/ DTO over this version, i thought sword coming out at the end, she thought it all love, interesting how 3 years later it still goes in this box for me), (2): clip2a, clip2b, clip2c, (3): clip3a (or 1..), (4): clip4a, clip4b (check out the suit+tie while you’re at it..), clip4c, clip4d (or 2d?)… (oh wow, i found a 5th category: clip5). anyway, enough clips, you got the idea. Not so much in (3), apparently (1) is also rare.. but equal distribution between 2 and 4. Especially for 4 when done intentionally, it really brings out the uncertainty in Sesto… So, back to this NEC performance, the orchestra starts VERY slow and timid (intentionally), then Sesto entered.. somewhere i not quite sure, i’d put it in category (4) though not sure if that’s HER intention.. At first i thought it was the orchestra not supporting enough, though plenty of clips on (2) and (4) has proven otherwise.. Why so much focus on this? it’s the most important moment for Sesto after all, and when expressed well in music you can understand better Sesto’s state of mind.. otherwise one is sort of sitting in a limbo waiting to find out which Sesto will show up during the burning session..

So, to the singers. Starting with castle burning session, actually here is when i thought the mezzo began to express very well the anguish, torment, along with SUPERB support from the orchestra. MUCH BETTER than the hammock-soothing-swinging version heard last year in church. I think this is also when she (=mezzo=Sesto) had more extended recitative, hence the drastic increase in intensity/mood/expression. By the time “Deh per questo instanto solo” came around, the tissues came out in heaps, might have even heard couple people sniffing in the back. VERY MOVING, in part also due to the great body positioning/acting. Actually there’s not that much acting going on but rather standing at angles, staring, glancing, gesturing with hands in response to passionate narration to my right (I’m fine with it, took some time to get used to, but better smaller meaningful gestures than grand overacting). But for Sesto’s last aria, the full recit between that built up the intensity and capped by Tito swiping off Sesto’s pleading hand as (s)he fell face-first to the ground. From here, heart-aching music picked up with Sesto delivering last words from four feet. truly tear inducing. SUPERB singing. BRAVA (ps- Purity once had a very nice and detailed post on this aria, something related to malt or marmite methinks..)

Next up, Vitellia. If there’s a staging anywhere near with her in this role, i’ll show up! of all singers this night, she was the best in expressing full intention/emotion during recitatives. very nice shaping of phrases with varying the voice intensity (not so much pianissimo but everything from p to fff she had at her disposal and used well.) She also acted the most (again to great narration on right ear) beginning with spinning Sesto by the nose to regretful “non piu di fiori” (<– my fav YT version for listening while i continue typing..) As always, one wonders how the soprano will handle the low passage here. absolute no problem, all went very well with relative ease, along with SUPERB clarinet! he also got huge applause at the end.

Tito: he has quite more recit it seems, i really enjoyed how he expressed emotion during these passage. none of the pouting i dread, true expression in recit, yay! To say i don't normally pay attention to Tito in various already-seen recordings in an understatement :-). Only image i always have is first Barbara Bonney lying flat on floor bowing, followed by him grabbing her hand heading directly for the bed in super-crazed fixated eyes followed by cuddling on her lap.. singing-wise, he has a nice voice, but i’ll have to listen more/again coz my (wrong?) impression was that somehow the music was always a bit “truncated”, i.e., instead of shaping the note/words/phrase, sometimes the note+word is just reached and stopped (?)…

Not so much opinion on Servillia and Publio, except to now realize how small the part of the bass is… But for some reason, i have quite little opinion for Annio, not sure what that means.. except the duo with Sesto was such a rush starting with recit, as if they just wanted the whole thing to be over with. But this is generally true as well in many performances i find, where if you blink you might just miss the whole scene! In fact a quick tally on YT yields nominal time of 1.25sec with both recit + duo included! (ex: Otter+Connoly, Garanca+Lindsey(<– actually i really like this one too, even in short time they somehow expressed everything very nicely). This is what happened i suspect if your first ever clemenza di tito is salzburg2003, coming in at a RECORD clock time of FOURTY-FOUR second of recit followed by SIXTY-THREE sec of duet (pardon the yelling, amazingly long timing for expressing music!!)

Well this post is getting quite long in rambling fashion.. but a few more words about orchestra. I LOOOOVE how Stephen Lord can command the orchestra to do what he wants. Some accompaniment with singing was incredible (Deh per questo, transition to choral part right after Sesto was arrested (true funeral mood, quite amazing), Deh, se piacer me vuoi, can’t remember now but pretty much the whole Act 2 + elsewhere except overture/here/there which i already mentioned..) Anyhow, to quickly wrap up as bed-time is 1hr ago, the NEC is making the recording available as always, here’s the link for you to sample: . Also included is the curtain call, well deserved roar, i first switched on camera to snap the usual shot but roar = video instead :-). VERY MUCH looking forward to what they’ll roll out next year!