As initially reported here (and lots of pictures here), OC took in Graham Vick's staging of La Clemenza di Tito at Teatro Regio di Torino while you were all busy stocking-up for your Memorial Day BBQs @ Costco. Since it was a Sunday matinée, and a gray rainy day to boot, OC went extremely casual, in black J Brand Black Label jeans, black silk Viktor & Rolf off-the-shoulder blouse, Costume National black boots, black Aspesi hooded windbreaker, and the Prada shopper in ruched, black leather. And a fabulous Paul Smith umbrella in pastel, Pucci-esque swirls.
The theater was filled with like 95% senior citizens for the Sunday 3PM show, which was fine by OC. Ten minutes before the performance began, as people were taking their seats and milling about, without any cues of lighting or curtains rising, two white-gloved butlers arrived stage front and unrolled a sliver of area rug from under an art deco chair. Brilliant.
Brilliant because we think, ok, they are making a DVD out of this, but this moment can in no way be captured by the HD cameras that hadn't yet started rolling. And this is what Graham Vick is all about. The goal is that old-school, lofty ambition of luring people out of their comfort zones for live theater. In a day and age where DVDs are sealed and inked with every major recording company traversing the entire spectrum of opera theaters, it's all too easy to go months (years?) without seeing a live show and just netflixing & p2ping & Siriusing everything (while keeping a blawg or a bulletin board about it all). Why bother with the uncomfortable seats and the smelly crowds and the rude ushers and the overpriced parking when we can just pop in a DVD of your favorite opera in the comfort of our own home? We’ve grown so borooooed and cynical of stamped-out, recycled productions, all given the Broadway in&out, drive-thru seal, that going to the theater seems a scam rite?. Well, our main man Graham Vick is out to smash that, making each performance unique and exclusive, infusing live opera with the thrill of witnessing fresh blood and stuff, flaws and all. We were ready.
A black gauze curtain obscured the set stage, which was peeled back by a butler mid-overture. Before it was all revealed, only outlines of the set could be seen: a salon in a large hall with art deco tables and chairs, all in gorgeous blond wood. As the curtain was peeled away, one of the strong visual elements of the set was slowly revealed...French double doors leading to the darkness, topped by a long, horizontal row of windows, realized by set designer Jon Morrell.
During the first scene of Act I, the windows to the outside world remained inert and barely noticeable, abstract and blended into the wall as a strong design element. As the scene progressed, the approaching dawn filled and defined the windows and doors, making apparent the passage of time and sentiments. Vick's idea of using the same, static set throughout Acts I & II worked (as it did for Carsen's Teatro Regio di Torino Salome which we saw here), and it was no issue to suspend backgrounds interchanged for the Capitol, the imperial palace, the public hall, or the arena.
This we love about Vick. He handles his big ideas with such smatterings of care and tempi. He's in no hurry to broadcast his genius. He proceeds at his own pace and slowly & elegantly uncovers his gigantic, understated ideas at his leisure. He's not going to spoon-feed you anything. Pay attention or you'll miss it all!
The slight detraction of the night was Carmela Remigio's Vitellia. She had noticeable problems with her r's and her s's...rolling those r's heartily, and strangely slurring (lisping, acthually) over her s’s. Her breath control was sloppy, but we're hoping that it was because it was the final showing of Vick’s la Clemenza and maybe she was tired. We cannot argue that her tone was anything aside from lovely, with a pleasant color...but those rough edges that kept surfacing were just too distracting. Her Act II showstopper Rondò, "Non più di fiori" was technically solid, careful, and her color and tone were pleasant…but very rough edges appeared when she pushed the high notes. The higher she went, the wilder her voice grew. It was almost like a neurotic voice. For "Non più di fiori", however, the basset horn solo was outstanding, as were the remainder of the woodwinds.
Any detractions from the event were forgiven by Monica Bacelli's insanely excellent Sesto. Dressed in black pants, with a white dress shirt and shiny black shoes, well, dang. Physically perfect in the role, her body language dictated believably to be riddled with issues. She used excellent pronunciation, and a flawless technique. Her Act I aria, "Parto, ma tu ben mio" was the most stunning. Even conductor Roberto Abbado put down his baton and clapped his hands happily. "Brava" rained down from the 90+-year-old-crowd as enthusiastically as if the audience was filled with 20-somethings. She deserved it all. Gently caressed, lovingly washed, and above all, convincing in the resolve. The final scene's Recitativo accompagnato "Oh Dei, che smania è questa" was another stellar moment mastered by Bacelli, as well as Act II, Scene IX's Rondò "Deh, per questo istante solo" which was another standout, and was met with loads of applause.
Other players, Annio's Daniela Pini and Servilia's Rachel Harnisch were bright lights, and their Act I, Scene V's duet "An, perdona al primo affetto" was a standout.
(above: this is an awesome little chill-out room they have in the theater's lobby. So 70s.)
Abbado's overture OC found a bit too stylized, cursive, and polite, but this was nonetheless heeded by the tiny orchestra and period instruments. The rest of the conducting was a light, nervous, carefully layered style, which worked and never drowned out or fought with the singers (except during a few of Act II's arpeggi tackled by a lagging Filianoti). Abaddo's conducting and control got better and better as the afternoon progressed.
Filianoti's appearance was perfect for the greasy and slick Tito. His voice, however, was definitely worrisome, and frankly has been for a bit now. Technically, he hit all his notes, and his understanding of the role was spot-on. But when he did reach those higher registers and punched forward the precise tone, his remaining voice was audibly exhausted. Every time he reached up, he fell back down to recovery. His voice is now like a sweetly-loved teddy bear, all the fur rubbed off from too many bedtime kisses and scary dreams. It's worn through in spots.
Filianoti is 33.
He pushed hard his notes, all throat, and the sound became the kind of strained voice you'd think would make him bright red in the face. Act II, Scene XI, Tito's aria, "Se all'impero, amici Dei" was pretty scary on the arpeggio, and Abbado slowed down the orchestra. But Filianoti, hit each and every note, and made it strikingly obvious.
Vick's depiction of the burning capitol was truly frightening, making "Si teme che l'incendio" all the wiser. The totally real, flaming (gas) fire Vick ignited was sandwiched between the two rows of French doors, burning high and bright, a true roar of flames for like 5 minutes. And props to lighting director Giuseppe Di Iorio, who filled this scene with overhead light provided only by the sets, as opposed to very theatrical spots.
Act II began with powerful imagery, all the poor townsfolk who bore framed images of the demigod Filianoti, as the dictator bathed in the attention and flattery. The children rushed to his sides in warm embraces, hailing him the new leader and vowing unconditional love and support, and the fascist colors only grew from there. Fast forward to the final scene, where the political prisoners were brought into the scene blindfolded, and sporadically beaten by Tito's guards dressed in the typical Mussolini Blackshirt garb. In front of OC, there were four senior citizens who were squirming and rolling in their seats like itchy bear cubs, and we loved that Vick made them squirm -- whose side were you on back then, gramps?
Vick is a genius because he's basically offending Italy’s oldest living generation, who aren't just old in years, but old in mentality. So Vick rules because it's not like they're going to start a Facebook group denouncing Vick or make an online petition or anything. This isn’t your Grandma in Boca Raton uploading her vacation pictures to Flickr or updating her Twitter page. They’re just going to sit at their local bar and b*tch about it. I mean, who's listening...the walls? Yeah, more power to you.
(above: panorama from the top level of the Teatro Regio di Torino. Click for bigger)