White Skirt Wednesday: Is there actually anyone straight in this bar?

[Well, if you look at this out of context, it looks quite lovely, too. – Claire Boust (Younger Lady-in-Waiting (or what do we call her? Because this role as well as the Older Lady-in-Waiting assigned to Aspasia (who is portrayed by Agnès Aubé, I finally looked them both up, which was easy enough since they both have multiple acting credits, and I apologize for not doing so earlier) seem to be intended to be waiting staff, along with Mitridate’s two goons, whereas the two child actors seem to be two more of Mitridate’s children) and Sabine Devieilhe (Ismene) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.]


[Yes, I look like that at all my gal pals. – Claire Boust (Younger Lady-in-Waiting) and Sabine Devieilhe (Ismene) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.]

I know we’ve talked before about how this production emphasizes directing nearly all speech at someone, or have it framed by someone at least, and that does of course open up a lot of moments of connection and communication between all sorts of characters. It is another angle that offers layers to work with.

Come to think of it, though, Claire Boust also clearly is the closest this performance comes to integrating the smitten audience reaction: Her maid character gets to make eyes at all the ladies.


[That is some quality gal pal gazing right there, darling. – Claire Boust (Younger Lady-in-Waiting) and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.]

In other news, I need a White Skirts tag. Also, since it is a ittle under two months until “Mitridate”, with a nearly entire different cast and another orchestra and conductor, will be available for free streaming from La Monnaie, there will be a weekly countdwon reminder (because the blogger may still have more screencaps than anyone would really ever need).

It appears now that it might not even be this staging?! La Monnaie mentions a “new production team chosen”, connected with le lab.

All right then. It appears that will simply get to see an all-new “Mitridate” production with two singers who also happened to appear in the Paris staging by Hervieu-Léger (which I will never be able to unsee). We will get a chance at comparing not just musical, but also scenic takes and, in two instances, the singer vs. production energy: what remains the same, what will be different…?

(of course, the most important question now remains: “Will there be The Shirt?”)

10 thoughts on “White Skirt Wednesday: Is there actually anyone straight in this bar?”

  1. Anyone straight? During another re-watch in the train yesterday I paid attention to the Farnace/Marcio relationship and think you may have a point there. In fact, Farnace’s efforts on getting Aspasia do not seem to be so much about her person. When Aspasia rejects him and Mitridates return is announced, Farnace seems very annoyed and frustrated but more in a sense of ‘my (our?)plan is not working out’ than in the sense of rejected/unhappy love to Aspasia. Could there be a reason why marriage to Aspasia would facilitate his relationship to Marcio? Anyway, there is this moment in 41:30 of the YT video where Marcio helps him take of his bandage which would really fit your interpretation I think. And Farnace is clearly admired by Marcio when showing off in the following aria. Although I hope this is nothing exclusive for Farnace, otherwise, poor Ismene!
    Another thing I noticed about Mitridate’s arrival which you described along the lines of ‘he is the sun everyone circles around’: When he has finished his first aria, the audience’s response is really enthusiastic compared to the previous arias by the other singers and I had the impression the audience involuntarily responds to the staging of Mitridate as the ‘most important person’, here. And, while I generally like Michael Spyres’ performance I don’t think it is so special here, at least not in direct comparison with the previous singers. (But then, the enthusiastic response could of course just display a mainstream audience’s taste for tenor voices…)


    1. Dramatic tenor voices are such a rare breed that they are the highest paid singers, so… When parterre.com posted this evening (in their Leitmetzerin series), it was all because of Spyres – he is still young, and he is a dramatic tenor who can do Mozart, and then typical tenor recpetion (as you noted) sets in… I think your idea of the staging influencing the reaction of the audience is a valid additional point. Farnace and Aspasia: I appreciate the multitude of readings and connections that exist next to each other. Farnace and Marzio clearly have an interesting an intimate power dynamic in their interactions whch can be read in various ways. And some of them tie in with Farnace treating Aspasia in part like a political commodity to be possessed: she signifies legitimized access to the throne (because she was given to Mitridate initially). It’s a mix – he talks about it to her like a contract, half reasons, half threatens, is jealous, but he never seems soulfully in love with her (there is more emotion at play here with Ismene, I think (and I like the idea of bi Farnace))


      1. Oh I didn’t know, dramatic tenors are so rare, interesting. A while ago I tried to find out about the percental distribution of voice types / Fachs among singers as well as the general population and strangely enough there don’t seem to be any studies on that (at least I couldn’t find any, maybe you know anything?). That’s strange, as there are numerous studies classifying birds voices, but none on humans? Maybe it’s a methodical issue, because in people without singing training the voice type is difficult to determine while among professional singers a pre-selection may have taken place depending on the availability of professional jobs within a certain Fach.


        1. Quatifiable data might be difficult – because how do you measure Fach, and in what target group? – but much of it stems, for me, from seeing who applies to singing degrees, who applies to opera houses and who gets taken in, and with what salary. And the repertory always plays into it – look at how 30 years ago, there was not even an infrastructure for countertenor at the colleges, and now it’s established. But still every man who could sing soprano rather than mezzo, if he wants gigs, needs to tone it done because soprano repertory for castrato voices, e.g. in opera, which would mostly be 17th century, simply does not get played (SIfare is one of our happy exceptions, an you don’t see men singing it (and I prefer it that way. Boy, do I ever)).


  2. I was gonna bring the news to you indeed Anik, that i saw the stage director is also different… good and bad: bad is simply bad for us because we don’t get to see how much the staging is helping vs how much having the right singers/actresses (Petibon! i’m gonna make a comment on this separately..) , also bad because we won’t get to see Sifare’s shirt (sniff..) Not a single photo yet of the production so we have no idea.. can still always hope they give her (him) one! Good in the sense that we will have a completely different flow and can judge it on its own merit…


    1. oh, ps- i remember through my various re-watch thinking about those 2 childrens.. and somehow it occured to me they were not Mitridate’s children but sort of a flash back of young Sifare and Farnarce.. and in the scene when Mitridate returned (thanks Agathe for pointing out the dynamics there too.. how “rehearsed” it seems that they “joyfully” hug him after being given permission) it was sort of they way Sifare and Farnace used to greet him compared to the presence.


      1. oh, a mini-me version of the brothers, and staged as boy (Farnace) and girl (Sifare), too? I like that thought!


      2. Yes, very nice thought on the two children and it doesn’t really matter for your interpretation if the two children are really supposed to be Sifare and Farnace or two different younger siblings because in either way it is very likely that Sifare and Farnace will have experienced similar situations and can find themselves in this scene.
        I also really like your observations on varieties of violence in your longer post. Mitridate grabbing Aspasias arm, yes, quite chilling. But then, I love how Aspasia doesn’t let herself to be ‘broken’ by Mitridate. In fact one of my favourite Petibon moments is in “Tu che fidele mi sei”, when Mitridate goes for her the second time and she first ducks away but then quickly regains her composure and looks at him. I think, Anik, you described her look as being excited of Sifare defending her, yes, very nice, but there’s also a certain pride in her look, showing everyone that she will not be ‘broken’ by Mitridate, despite her spontaneous instincts of protecting herself. Also, her posture when standing up (shoulders!) implies that she will stand up against him (although, with regard to the storyline, she is not ready to do so openly, yet).
        As for Farnace, you are right, he may not as openly violent as Mitridate but his treatment of Ismene in the aria where he rejects her certainly has something sadistic for me, with the way he is grabbing her in the end, in combination with ridiculing her feelings for him. Interestingly his reactions seem to become more violent during the course of the aria, maybe pushed by Ismene’s constant attempts to touch (beat/hug?) him. But I also think, that his violent treatment of her is mainly about her being the bride, Mitridate has chosen for him against his current will and he is rebelling against that, not being able to attack Mitridate openly he is channeling his frustration towards her.


        1. This is something that has been on my mind, too, since thadieu made me rethink the term “rebellious” for Sifare – because that is a large part of what Farnace is here, and a lot of what he does looks motivated by the fact that it is against Mitridate, first and foremost – “He wants me to marry Ismene? I’ll say no.” – “He wants Aspasia? *I* want Aspasia.” – “He wants Sifare [whom, btw, I read as the younger brother] as a successor? I will be the successor.” – “He wants nothing to do with the Romans? – I’ll bring in the Romans.” etc. His treatment of Ismene is still something I cannot quite put into words because he is threatening, but because she is vulnerable, but not cowering, the threat does lose momentum. He is purposefully mean to get a reaction, but I don’t see him as sadistic in a sense of “leaning back and orchestrating a play”. He is all all over the place with emotionality.

          About “Tu che fidel mi sei”, I’ve been thinking off and on that I should go back to Aspasia’s look – it may be a reaction to Sifare, in one layer, but you are right, it is more than that – also a reaction to Mitridate, to whom she will submit, but she will not be bullied by him (and perhaps having Sifare’s openly emotional support is something that helps her straighten her shoulders?).


    2. Production will only have started; they open in early May and I don’t think there will be any set stills for a while (perhaps a bit of rehearsal footage by late April?). So, yes, it looks like a completely new production with two singers who recently sang the same parts in another production. I’m really bummed out we won’t get to conduct an experiment on the Petibon Effect, or the Dumaux Effect (and there’s the Shirt Effect, too 😉 )

      But I am looking forward to a whole new production, so soon, to think some more about the opera, about Papatanasiu’s Sifare interpretation in general (and how much EH/CR will make a difference there), and then probably also some more about Paris (we’ll always have Paris).


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