Opera Chic took part in a very interesting experiment of sociology and musicology: she chose to check out Graham Vick's staging of La Clemenza di Tito at Teatro Regio di Torino on a Sunday afternoon, the perfect moment to examine the reactions of a most conventional, staid, in large part elderly, audience, when confronted by Tito as Mussolini, and I Century CE Rome teleported to 1923.
The opera house wasn't sold out (due, maybe, to bad word of mouth on the omg toga-less staging omg) and defections at intermission were very few. And applause, at the end, by the part of the audience that loved the show was heartfelt and there was even a standing ovation (as documented in our picture below).
But how many of the elderly operagoers in the audience were audibly grumbling at intermission at the nice second-level café: our favorite, by a long shot, and we're sure Mr. Vick (and Monsieur Duchamp) would love this quote, was the elderly gentleman who complained about the Fascist-era staging by huffing that "E' come disegnare i baffi alla Gioconda", "It's like drawing a moustache over Mona Lisa's face".
Because Graham Vick is the same guy who in Salzburg, three years ago, decided to make Sarastro the bad guy in his Magic Flute, leaving audiences horrified and convincing the Festival glum d00dz to hire the harmless Pierre Audì for the 2006 Mozart Birthday party instead of Dangerous Graham, and more powah to Vick for that, he's someone who envisions the opera house as a place you go to have your sh^t f*cked up, not a place to go spend a happy evening between aperitivo and a nice dinner).
La Clemenza, of course, is an ode to a guy, Tito, who built a political career by slaughtering thousands of Jews, destroying the Temple, and coming back to Rome a hero, where an arch (that's unfortunately still standing) was built to honor his deed, an arch that carries gleeful basrelief of the plunder of Jerusalem and was in later centuries used by Popes as the appropriately ghoulish scene for the Roman Jews yearly pledge of submission to the Vatican.
It's not as crazy, then, that Vick chose to depict Tito not as enlightened leader but as slick-haired Duce, surrounded by sycophants in white ties and thuggish squadracce in black shirts and shiny boots, ready to graphically beat and kick the living cr4p out of randomly selected bystanders -- enjoy your Emperor's powah, bebbe.
What Vick is saying, in effect, is, if you're walking down the street and you see a little bug scampering by, and you decide to crush the bug under your shoe, and in the end you change your mind and you don't crush it, does that make a tolerant, enlightened Emperor? Not really, because you simply avoided to crush a bug -- because Sesto, Vitellia, all the others, can not touch Tito, because he has all the power that they don't have any, even an attempted coup won't do the trick of changing the power balance.
Tito's choice not to kill them is in a way irrelevant, because they don't exist anyway, they're bugs (however pretty Sesto comes across to the obviously gay Tito imagined by Vick). But then this is a director who deals in paradox and it is not a very popular currency nowadays.
Vick's staging wasn't the only cool thing -- Roberto Abbado rawked teh haus. He, for the occasion, chose a heavily-HIP inspired performance, a shallow orchestra pit and period instruments and oldskool bows by the ultra-cool maestro archettaio Emilio Slaviero and created a nervous, unsettling Tito, with elegant shifts in tempi and an underlying sense of sneaky danger -- in short, the opposite of the deadly, boring Clemenzas of the ex-musicologists, ex-countertenors with a baton that make up the large part of the "baroque specialists" troops.
More tomorrow in Opera Chic's full review -- suffice to say for now that a DVD is in the works (there were HD camers everywhere), that the production will appear in Dario Argento's new film, now shooting in Turin, Giallo, that Sesto (Monica Bacelli, in a world-class performance) was so awesome that even Roberto Abbado put down his baton and started clapping his hands after a killer aria, and that Tito, our dear Giuseppe Filianoti, was in such bad shape that we are now officially very worried about his forthcoming Don Carlos at la Scala on December 7.
But of all this, more later.