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Subject: The new DG recording of La Clemenza Di Tito and the lost art of recitative
From: James Camner <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:James Camner <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 8 Jul 2018 11:05:35 -0700

text/plain (65 lines)

Yesterday, I downloaded the new DG recording of La Clemenza di Tito which
popped up in the "new selections" list from iTunes.

I'm not going to review in detail it except to say that we were both
disappointed with it.

Briefly: the tempos by the conductor Yannick Nezet Seguin were, IMHO,
erratic, too often manic and fast. I don't think he was much help to the
singers, none of whom shone at their best, IMHO. I am sorry, but I don't
think Nezet-Seguin's conducting here bodes well for Mozart at the
Metropolitan Opera in the future.

Aside from Rolando Villazon, who sounded strained to me, the big name among
the singers on the DG recording is Joyce DiDonato who speeds through the
coloratura passages in the grand aria Parto, Parto with impressive ease,
but she brings no characterization or expression to it, it's all a race to
the finish line. It also struck me how much she really is a "mezzo" not
having either an easy top or bottom to her voice, at least not as I heard
it in this recording. DiDonato is a remarkable singer of course, and
perhaps in collaboration with more seasoned Mozart conducting hands, she
could have reached higher.

The bar on records for Parto Parto was set by Ernestine Schumann Heink:

No one has matched the peerless contralto on records but if memory serves
me correctly, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson came close when she sang it at the
New York City Opera in March of 2000. On records Teresa Berganza is very
good (there are multiple recordings of her doing it on Youtube). After all
these years, I believe the first recording dating from 1967 of La Clemenza
di Tito by Istvan Keresz (a brilliant conductor who died tragically young)
remains the best.

One thing that certainly hasn't improved in time is the singing of
recitative which is inevitably a bore, but it shouldn't be that way;
recitative should be the opportunity for singers to express the drama and
to show off their improvisational skills (on their own terms and not
dictated by an anachronistic  conductor). But I doubt I will ever hear a
modern performance of a baroque or classical opera that does anything like

I'm astounded that singers allow themselves to be bullied and pushed by
conductors (who may or may not know anything about singing) into singing
this way or that. We were at a showing of Lubitsch's "So This is Paris" at
UCLA and there was a discussion about it, and how Lubitsch would act out
lines for the actors who tolerated it, but who basically (and this is still
true of actors today) resent it and rarely put up with it. But opera
singers, unlike actors or pop singers, are slaves in bondage. And that more
than anything explains the self-defeating paradox of so called HIP.

James Camner

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