[Sometimes putting on a shirt is even more appealing than taking it off: an addition to White Shirt 101. – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.]
Dear reader, if you are doubting whether you are a queer lady, just watch the following three clips. If you are still calmly sipping your tea by the end of it and admire the interior design, you’re off the hook. If you find yourself on the floor, however, with fried brain cells and in need of medical assistance: welcome home.
[We really need to update the White Shirt Manual to include this aria (as well as the following two): “Soffre il mio con pace” (even as all of us may be in risk of cardiac arrest). An Introduction to the Art of White Shirt Donning, Singing an Acting as offered by Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.- Clip with thanks to thadieu – of course, if you have three hours spare (and even if you don’t), watch the entire thing here]
[This, too, needs to be added to the White Shirt 101 Manual because sometimes, the White Shirt energy hinges on a soprano in a skirt. As thadieu put it: We may need to give Petibon an award for her impeccable grasp of things. Case in question: “Al destin, che la minaccia”, courtesy of Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.- Clip with thanks to thadieu]
[And a third addition for the Eternal Hall of White Shirt Fame: “Lungi da te” – sung by Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare), very much acted by both her and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia), in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.- Clip with thanks to Ma8ne3b]
For today’s White Shirt Monday, I thought about talking about another production again (I will, eventually), but my heart’s not in it, not yet.
When new White Shirt aficionadas stumble across the threshold into our little corner of the world, we usually give them the following list of mandatory viewing experiences:
I am adding now adding the Paris Mitridate to that list, and Papatanasiu’s Sifare to the pantheon, even though she is not a mezzo.
In the last few days, I have done a lot of talking and thinking regarding this production – some of it in this blog’s comments – in regards to (physical) detail work and how that echoes through the performance and its reception, and how it influences our connecting to this staging.
One aspect that stands out more to me in rewatching is the use of multiple people on stage at all times. It’s a standard that often annoys me in postmodern theatre because it is meant to kill intimacy, to purposefully keep audiences from connecting, a late capitalist ironization of everything that devalues deeper engagement as unflexible, immobile and, ultimately, uneconomic.
That is not the case here. When done well, the absence of characters alone on a stage prevents the 4th-wall larmoyance of a character reminiscing towards an audience. Instead, it results in all words, even those spoken as asides, being directed at someone, in reaction to someone: the characters are always being seen, being heard in a very practical framing that renders them into situations of communication (within diegesis).
Does it takes away from the intimacy? At times, but not necessarily, particularly not within this staging: while no one is ever ‘alone’, having more people as more perspectives onstage also creates chances of connection, and in that, intimacy. Upon rewatching (copiously), I find it to be tied-in here, and not self-serving as “look how edgy we are, pah, commitment to emotion is for losers”.
Instead, it can validate affect, and emotion, too: Just take the “Lungi da te” as a sample and see what Petibon’s presence does as a frame to the aria.
Petibon, who apparently has been in every “Mitridate” under the sun in the past decade (even in a take by Bösch who just tanked “Alcina” in Geneva), is, to me, at her most convincing here because she does so much through looking.
Aspasia sends Sifare away, but she listens. Her presence validates his pain, and even after she leaves, bound by duty, even after he thinks himself alone, she listens from the shadows.
Then she disappears for the viewer, too, who can catch onto Sifare’s despair, in trying to find her once more, just for another exchange of looks, and finding himself alone.
And then there is the final moment, when he walks away heartbroken and in the last seconds, we (not Sifare) see Aspasia, equally heartbroken, emerge from the shadows once more, to watch him walk away. It results in a framing that says: I have heard you. I have listened to you.
It is another tiny moment with a big impact for me.
I know that this production was not designed for a queer gaze, but it resonates with many queer-specific experiences. Wanting to be listened to and the importance of having one’s voice heard and appreciated is not an exclusively queer thing; it is important for everyone.
Yet there is a stronger chord resounding here from my queer perspective: how often are we – especially as queer women – mislabeled, ignored and made invisible through assumptions? So much that “being listened to” gains another kind of urgency?
If you think me overly dramatic here, remember the last time someone mistook a partner of yours for a sister (or a mother), the last time someone called your asking for representation “demanding special treatment”, the last time someone told you in puzzled surprise they’d never have pegged you for queer (usually after they ask you to bring your boyfriend to the office party and you have had to correct them an bear with their discomfort), the last time someone classified your interest in a woman as the trademark “just being gal pals”.
Being listened to, being validated, is a framing that – especially when it comes to relating desire and heartbreak – queer viewers will strongly respond to, and I am grateful to have gotten a chance to be reminded of it through this “Mitridate”.