White Shirt Monday: The Second Time Around

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[Green is back in time for spring! also back in time for spring: more sopranos in pants (please sign me up for all the portrayals of female masculinity in second spring). – Catriona Smith (Flavio) in Jommelli’s “Il Vologeso”, Stuttgart 2016.]

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[Vorrei vendicarmi! – Well, not this time. Or rather, yes, but not in a  Handelian manner. But as long as it is Schneiderman, I’m in anyway. – Helene Schneiderman (Lucilla) in Jommelli’s “Il Vologeso”, Stuttgart 2016.]

I still haven’t managed to sit down and properly watch Jommelli’s “Il Vologeso” from Stuttgart, but chances are I would end up rewinding the scenes of these two indefinitely. The ARTE watch-on-demand has expired by now (*grmmmbl*), but thankfully, there is YouTube (thanks goes to Sahzija DjonlagicDreca).

Most of us know Smith and Schneiderman through THE “Alcina” (Stuttgart 1999, Coote, Naglestad, also staged by Wieler/Morabito) – if you need a reminder, look no further than here (but ignore the comments to avoid ulcers). So likely, you remember them like this:

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[O s’apre il riso: Helene Schneiderman (Bradamante) and Catriona Smith (Morgana) in Handel’s “Alcina”, Stuttgart 1999]

In “Il Vologeso”, the singers switch the pants and skirts in comparison to “Alcina”, where Schneiderman’s butch Bradamante was romanced by Smith’s smitten Morgana.

The plot of “Il Vologeso” concerns another mezzo in pants (Sophie Marilley – who also sang one of the Ruggiero iterations in THE “Alcina”, next to the Alcina of Myrtò Papatanasiu, and gbopera has you covered for a visual of that, oh my), who has been bested out of his kingdom by some tenor (story of our lives, I know), who has also taken hostage the mezzo’s fiancée, Berenike.

The opera is basically said tenor – Lucio Vero – trying to seduce the mezzo’s (King Vologeso) fiancée, and said fiancée – Berenike – saying no (at least on paper), to be reunited with her Vologeso in the end.

So far, I am much more interested in the subplot, though, because Lucio Vero has a fiancée, too: Lucilla (Schneiderman). Lucilla arrives on scene with Roman envoy and traveling companion, Flavio (Smith).

Lucilla, who is quite aware that her mariage is political and who is clearly past the stage of youthful idealization of love, is scheming with Flavio to get her rightful status as the designed future bride of Lucio Vero back (she wins. Of course).

But what we get on a level of looks and ambiguous lines is a  layered, bittersweet second-time-around romance that remains (from what I have seen for far) unspoken: Lucilla and Flavio are a scheming team that works together in that effortless way that bespeaks years of familiarity, and Flavio seems invested in Lucilla far beyond his bodyguard duties. It’s the Rizzoli-and-Isles kind of married in a Remains of The Day setting.

It’s also a rare chance to hear and see two seasoned singer-actresses in a White Shirt relationship dynamic beyond the usual youthfulness. The only other example I can think of – of a female singer embodying not a cute youngster or a dashing young hero, but an older man – is Sarah Connolly’s exceptional “Giulio Cesare”, and I would say that Smith’s conflicted Flavio is at a later point in life still. Also, Flavio is not romancing some young Cleopatra, but someone more his equal in age, who shares the wariness, the scars and the appreciation of falling for someone that comes with having loved, and lived, and lost before.

(I will get back to this production once I have seen it in full, but these two stood out to me even during a quick fast-forward.)

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