The Brussels “Mitridate” – Aftershow Thread & Review

herewegoagain

[For the somewhat more coherent discussion and contemplation of the Brussels “Mitridate” (because the post below this one will likely only make sense to people who either blogged along or read the entire 340+ comments while streamwatching on the side), featuring, among others, Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Brussels 2016.]

To make the start (now without Scotch, but with a strong coffee in hand): I enjoyed last night’s production far more than I thought I would. If you forced me to choose between Brussels and Paris, it would still be Paris, but I am very grateful that I have had the chance to see both (repeatedly, whom are we kidding) because it also puts the Paris take in a more pluridimensional light.

If I don’t talk about some singers below by name while talking about others a lot, it is also because I do not want to leave searchable bad reviews on anyone’s voice – some careless phrase can do damage to someone else’s livelihood and sometimes it is perhaps just the casting, or one director one does not click with, or someone having a bad day (as we all do), or perhaps *I* simply didn’t click with someone…  and no one should have to pay for that.

Why would I choose Paris overall is perhaps a mean question to start with, but it is how I arrived at this production: with  a very strong impression in mind, so I will keep comparing.

While I was delighted with much of the coloring and the accentuating Rousset chose, and intrigued by the more spread out sound and some of the tempo choices (even more so because he did not bring his own band, but worked with the Monnaie orchestra, which is not a trained Early Music body attuned to him), I am still sold to the rhythmic drive, vertical structure and phrase thinking under Haïm. I would not have been able to say this without hearing another very good take in Rousset, but what draws me to Haïm is the drive, and the way she thinks the music rhtythmically as an organism governed by breath.

Overall, I think the Paris casting was stronger. Brussels took four leads (some names not as big as their Paris counterparts) and stopped there. What last night also made me appreciate was the care and the quality  brought to the table in Azzaretti  (please come back and slouch against all the EU conference tables and boss around everyone in a high voice range!) and Dubois.

The Brussels take is entertaining, yet it is not shallow and parodist in the way of the recent Theater an der Wien “Agrippina”. Still, it has a lot less depth than Paris. Hervieu-Léger’s take in Paris is rooted in Racine in every impulse, all the motivations are tightly directed. You can nearly always see *why* a certain gesture, a stance, a look is happening (probably also testimony to a director who is first and foremost an actor). It is an approach both  more heightened and more lyrical, a place out of time, out of any  defined geography, and at its core are the emotions of the different characters.

Brussels  puts the politics at the core and the very specific image of the EU today, and uses the characters more as illustrations: they do not drive the story through their decisions, they are all being driven by the political machine that is present in every video screen and every conference table and every contract folder. I do not think it is vapid, or purely decorative: it does have a point, but the point is not rooted in the character relations, it is rooted in the political backdrop. So, yes, it is amusing and also poignant to  have Sifare and Aspasia push Aspasia’s marriage contract to Mitridate into a shredding machine  for “Se viver non degg’io”, but it does in no way reach the gutting depth of the Paris take that focuses on the fear, the despair and the devotion of the doomed lovers. Brussels is more contemporary in its emotionality. Paris is high drama.
There are points in Brussels where things happen because someone apparently said “Do this” and not because it develops out of an emotional cue.

Papatanasiu has a far bigger scope to act with than Spyres here and at several moments, the scenic logic she follows is Paris, down to very small gestures and cues. I would guess that she brought this to the table or has not been given new prompts developed out of this more politics-based take.

Paris is more multidimensional and does not search for easy answers: it is the emotional impulse and its course, not tying it up with a bow, up to the open ending where we kept wondering what might happen to this Sifare and this Aspasia, together. I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but the satisfaction in the Brussels take, the relief all of us who were blogging along commented on when Sifare and Aspasia ended up holding hands, throws into sharper relief the Paris decision to show the conflicted emotions, and not  forge it into a single, consecutive narrative (however rewarding that might have been).

The Brussels venue makes a difference, and not just because it is smaller:  It is palpable that this is not an opera house, that this is a temporary set up, like the fake glass doors onstage. The smaller size of the hall, however, worked very well with the sound projection in some cases.

Michael Spyres as Mitridate comes across smoother in Brussels: he has to employ less power (some of this might be the change in conducting), resulting in a stronger focus on cultivated line, but also leading to so much control as to leave him looking more disengaged. Since he mostly gets put into politician’s poses, he also does not have as much to work with scenically. The one moment where he learns that Aspasia might have betrayed him with Farnace, and where he shoots up drugs, is quickly done, as if the sensationalist image would not need any explanation. Here, I would have liked to be able to follow the internal logic that  would lead to this, and there has, as far as I see it, not been put anything discernible on the directors’ part into the backstory of this. Spyres in Paris had a lot more physical and vocal menace, he was  a body bursting with power and strength and violence, but never as a pose. He has his strongest moments in Brussels when he draws from the Paris dramaturgy. And while his singing might be more sovereign here, his overall portrayal was more layered and intriguing (also, vocally more risqué, and paying off accordingly) in Paris.

While I have heard last night’s countertenor on recording before and enjoyed him, I was not entirely sold on his Farnace last night. Scenically, he has good presence and made an impression: he easily carried the somewhat caricature-evil bits he was given and made them worth watching. I am more reserved vocally. I don’t think it is a technical issue  – he selectively showed off clear, unstrained top notes and flowing, smooth ornamentation. But that, to me, happened last night not consistently, and the overall impression of his sound, in coloring, was more than once uneven to me (and I do not go for uniform color at all – hello, Kasarova? That is kind of the whole selling point with Kasarova!): some vowels came across distorted, at times upper middle range projection got blocked by a tight inwards focus, which led to some phrases sounding garbled. Some reviews have pointed out that perhaps it was due to the overacting villain cues that bled into the vocal portrait, so perhaps that was the case.

I will have to listen more to Simona Šaturová’s Ismene. The role comes across completely different than in Paris, as an older politician more on the same level with Mitridate even as she is romantically linked to Farnace.
After the bedazzling coloratura take that was Devieilhe (and the youthful energy she projected, the being puzzled at being rejected because her Ismene had not lived though this yet), Šaturová is a 180 degree switch, but very enjoyable in her own right. Save for a barely-there strain in the very top notes, she has everything at her disposal, yet the arias, taken on as bigger, less rhythmic arcs, did not stand out as coloratura pieces, but rather as more contemplative. The voice is bigger, grounded in a middle range warmth that sounds lyrical. This was an Ismene who has seen how the machinery works, and who still allows herself to be vulnerable, and who tries to reach her goals with diplomacy.

After Petibon’s Aspasia, I thought myself ruined for any other take on the role, ever. I’m happy to report that that is not the case, even as I have to say that Petibon, in her exceptional, unrestrained commitment to roles and her fearless vocal acting, is truly unique, and I don’t really think anything or anyone could be quite on the same plane in the first place.

That aside, Lenneke Ruiten makes a great Aspasia. She may have a bit less sheer dazzle than Petibon, whose route was from coloratura to a fuller voice with more weight in the middle and lower ranges as well; Ruiten’s take is more coming from a solid core, but she, too, has everything at her disposal. Her structuring in phrasing is very different, and it results in a completely different portrait.

Ruiten made me reflect on Petibon, and how Petibon is an open knife in intensity. Ruiten came more from a place of centered self-placement, and delivered a really attractive Aspasia, too. She is more suave than Petibon’s urgency and absoluteness of emotion, also in portrayal – a parallel to Ismene here – less youthful. This Aspasia is a powerful and confident politician who knows the game, yet is human in her moments of vulnerability. There is no way to do Pallid’ombre and have it be superficial (at least there should be no way). Ruiten was touching here: desperate, but it was more tinged by sadness than by madness, more by melancholy than by tragedy. It was a strong moment for her – and it was, curiously, also one of Spyres’ strongest moments – when she is standing against that huge conference table, Mitridate holding out the poisoned bowl of cherries to her, unwaveringly, while she holds her ground, yet also finds her strength precisely in acknowledging her feelings.

This Aspasia is gold in the political talks, threatening across tables with the best of them, then putting up her feet and falling under Sifare’s spell with touching hesitation, despite the pleased knowing smile that earlier happened at his first admission of love (after this night, I really need to revisit the Scala “Silla” with Ruiten and Crébassa). I will likely go into much more detail in the comments and in upcoming weeks. At times despite the staging, the portrayal was overall convincing and well-rounded both vocally (one gets why she is such a champion at the Monnaie) and scenically.

The only points where Ruiten’s Aspasia was upstaged was when it came to Sifare. Papatanasiu really got to outshine everyone else scenically in this production, and also was at the very top of the food chain, if we want to establish one, vocally.

In my opinion, it shows that she has very recently worked on this part in great detail with the Paris production, and she brings this experience to the (conference) table in Brussels splendidly, with an awareness that allows her more ease in how she tackles her arias.
The smaller venue seems to work in her favor, too, since the warmth to her sound – that lyrical quality that is more Mozart than Verdi – was more pronounced here. Some of it may also have been work with Rousset, who has more of a horizontal approach with accents than the deep vertical rhetoric of Haïm that is more centered around rhythm than color.

In Paris, the Sifare arias are more different entities, from the slow burn of “Lungi da te” to the exuberance of “Soffre il mio cor con pace” to the distraught passion and drive of “Se’l rigor d’ingrata sorte”. In Brussels, they form more of a homogeneous idiom. The “Lungi da te” is quicker, the final aria slower (that was the only one where the different speed take did not quite work for me).

What stood out to me was the exceptional, unstrained warmth in the lower range in “Lungi da te” – Papatanasiu does not put any pressure on it and of course it shows that she is a soprano and not a mezzo, but it carried beautifully and created that kind of sound you relax into because it is both focused and at ease. It also shows that she has sung this piece a lot this year and really knows it inside out to great effect. And apart from the whole scenic issue of seducing Aspasia during it, I think it is, in this take, a very seductive piece vocally. Since the direction did not focus on tragic depth – in Paris, the whole number is yearning agony, even in beautiful sound, like the Lacanian essence of straining towards an impossible desired something – there was, also in the stage setting, more of a chance to simply bask in the glory of the vocal lines here, and in their immediately rewarding emotive effect.

Something I want to commend separately is Papatanasiu’s acting. And while she generally is a good actress, I think the Paris production (and perhaps also the stint alongside PP?) and her precise work on heightened emotionality there did flow into the Brussels take, as well. It is visible in small cues – reacting to being addressed, to other characters, in very small, organic gestures – as well as in building her bigger scenes.
I joked last night that she must have taken a page from the Petibon School of Unapologetic Looks, but that’s only partially joking: she really has a knack (not sure whether she has always had it) for underscoring turning points in the music and text with looks. And they are as unwavering and committed – and really stood out last night in comparison to everyone else – as Petibon’s Aspasia in Paris.

Trouser roles are always a bit of a touchstone: it shows immediately when someone is uncomfortable in them or whether someone can put the part first.

Papatanasiu showed here, again, an uncompromising honesty and commitment to the part taken on. We talked at length about her portrayal of non-toxic masculinity in Paris and I think it also shows in this production, again. Technically (I think she was bound, though, wasn’t she? To assure the fit of the shirt?), what she does, and to great and convincing effort – and she gets better in it across the course of the evening, too – is not putting on maleness (save for some work mainly with stance and step length and taking space), but simply evading movements that are coded as feminine, and then working from her own physicality.
To get to that on a conscious level is a lot of work I truly commend her for; many colleagues, despite singing trouser repertory a lot more often, never quite get there. It is a dedication and truthfulness unconcerned with offstage presentation or onstage glamor – something I would call artistic authenticity, perhaps? And that is what makes a convincing role portrayal (the attractiveness of this quality, or of this very role portrayal, is another thing, for which I refer you to last night’s more incoherent utterances). She fully came through on that.

One last, related note before I jump into the comment discussion below: If you thought that you had finally survived the heavy “Mitridate” slant when it comes to White Shirt Monday or overall trouser role photos on Eye Bags: uhm, no. I should probably apologize in advance there, because with the ammunition given last night, I think I will be able to screencap us quite comfortably into the foreseeable future.

74 thoughts on “The Brussels “Mitridate” – Aftershow Thread & Review”

  1. yes, i see the trail from the last post, with further discussion needed for Lungi da te. I did offer an alternative ending (Capuleti duet in Munich–not linking pix here b/c i have already 1 link in this comment..) which i thought would have fitted perfectly (not only in the sense of what i would love to see…ahem.. but truly, if there’s a place for that it would have been precisely here: Sifare making a move while Aspasia pulled back, followed by mutual action on couch, followed by Sifare pulled back while Aspasia making a move, followed by alternative ending..) Otherwise, as Aspasia said in previous post, it didn’t quite make sense (already didn’t quite make sense when (s)he got off the couch!)

    In a way perhaps because this staging is not digging too deep into the character’s mindset, they are always short in time to develop anything? One clear thing is that the dynamics between Sifare & Aspasia is already established from the beginning that both are more front about their attraction.. but if direction orders Sifare to walk off in Lungi da te, I guess the acting needs to have a bit different? but where? otherwise the tie-removal and the walking-away-at-the-end is in conflict.

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    1. I back to add more: the nature of this aria, it is Aspasia who is resisting and not Sifare: that’s why the 1st half makes sense and 2nd doesn’t, and why when Aspasia is pulling the shirt, esp. when combined with how forward Sifare was in 1st half, there’s only 1 way it can naturally end! (and i find an excuse to relink the “right” ending😉 ).

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      1. I am still writing the post in bits and pieces, but then will jump to the comments and think about just that juxtaposition. I think what they went for was “you go for her, but at the point where she says ‘yes’, you think about your father and decide to step away” – but that is a rational posing, it does not carry emotionally, and if you have strong acting (particularly MP in that scene) and after Paris where emotion carried everything, you simply don’t buy the “oh, I am stepping away” that easily. The previous acting is too strong for that.

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        1. i should be zzz.. but here we are.. 1 more round of Lungi da te.. and back to 1st half: now i really see where i miss PP: in facial expression as a receiver to MP’s Sifare’s phrasing and emotion, as well as the touch..

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    2. I think what happened here – on a directing level – was “ok, so this is one long scene with sensuous music where he walks away from her. What do we do with the entire ten minutes? Well, how about we give them some action, then he gets a bad conscience and walks away?”
      And it is a nice idea. I am SO NOT COMPLAINING about the action (Sorry, but I do have a pulse. And it is the pulse of a dyke), but the framing is difficult because the singers upstage it.
      Again, it is a good idea, I think, to address the sensual quality of the music with Sifare not just saying farewell here, but also seducing Aspasia vocally, which is simply translated from the music to the action. Aspasia’s hesitancy works, too: She has said no before this aria, and now this aria sways her (and everyone else because hnnnng, but I digress). So Aspasia falling under its/his/her spell also works.
      It starts to dissociate at the point where this has been built touchingly and sincerely, and where then Sifare gets up from the couch/lounge chair with the change of the music, but without any scenic or visible internal prompt. We are not given any reason as to why Siare suddenly does a 180, and “oh, I just remembered my father” simply does not cut it after this build-up.
      Aspasia going after Sifare again makes sense (although she should not let him get up in the first place), also that she tries to get him to stay (lace is a valid argument. Very valid). What does not make sense is Sifare not giving in. With how the build-up is played, with the priority given to romance/desire here, with how forward Sifare is here and with how overall distanced he his from his father, the very build-up is undermined at the point Sifare can simply step away from it.
      To me, Papatanasiu plays this so well in the beginning that she makes the (rather quick) change in motivation impossible. She has no time to build it, either: Sifare goes from being literally all over Aspasia to suddenly moving away (and I think the speed with which he does that is the biggest issue). So there would either need to be more of a transition – some slower stop, some side look by Sifare – to sell this, or (while I honestly don’t want to trade a second of this first part for anything) the scene should not build to this moment on the lounge chair in the first place because it is taken so much in earnest that the return to the “ah, this is supposed to be farewell, so I better get a move on” is jarring.
      The same happens at the very end where Sifare leaves Aspasia standing in her underwear: MP gets in a moment of stunned hesitation, a bit of dragging feet, which is good, but, again, she has no time to build up a counterargument to Aspasia’s, eh, arguments.
      Bottom line: I think it is the acting performances – particularly Sifare – upstaging a given scenic of cue of “do this here”, and “do this there”, without really having worked on the transition to give it a logical reason.
      (Then again, there may not be a logical reason to be found to say “no” here. As we said last night: if the only appropriate reaction to something is to drop your shirt, good luck with finding an opposing argument, and at the drop of a hat to boot)

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      1. oh, this has turned into a full post! now i understand what you mean! (and i might not sleep!)
        As i said, and perhaps because i saw Capuleti *live* 5 times, the moment Aspasia dropped her blouse my brain went into duet-finale scene! otherwise, yes, agree with everything you said here, esp. the bit of directing that tells her “now switch to mode B” but not working out the reasons or giving it time.

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      2. so the “issue” here is that MP’s Sifare is seducing too well! (just think how conflicting this statement is for me/us!!) If (s)he was, for example, more shallow / short-sighted / more air-headed / always a daddy-boy perhaps we get to part B without any rethought <– that's one way to do it, but i would have not gone silent for some extended 15min while others here were checking on my pulse…
        As you said also, the other alternative is a much stronger resistance from Aspasia, *even* if we get to the lounge chair. As soon as she said "yes" , quoting you, "there may not be a logical reason to be found to say "no"" from then on out.

        An additional alternative would be for Sifare to drop on knees in place and lights out. That ought to give a field day of imagination / interpretation.

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          1. I could understand why it would be a challenge to not have one’s knees give way there.

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          2. (actually thinking a bit deeper, now in the dark they can have all the time they need to sort out who stays/goes. It’s quite plausible and not just a “cheap” solution to something that hasn’t been thought out, but does give the impression we can’t figure out what to do so let’s just switch the lights off! sounds like a paragraph in my introduction (in paper) when i can’t quite connect before/after and just put a line saying essentially “so that’s that”. Though a final product should have included me going back there to harsh out the connection, which is what this scene lacks)

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          3. …and then cut to Aspasia alone?
            It would be somewhat chopped, and obviously, he still would have left, so perhaps more questions than answers?

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          4. I wonder if the lounge chair sequence was maybe meant metaphorically by the director and they were actually meant to have sex, but of course then the bra thing wouldn’t make sense unless it would be meant as Aspasia being willing to let go of her career etc. and deciding for Sifare? Anyway, if that’s the approach it’s not very clear and quite prudish…

            The sound conditions, resulting in „softer“ voices I quite enjoyed in most cases. With regard to MP I found her performance even better then in Paris, singing-wise, although very hard to say if it was just daily form or development or sound conditions…, needless to repeat that she was indeed the highlight of the evening.
            In the role of Mitridate, while he was sounding more powerful and emotional in Paris, I liked Spyres more nuanced approach here and this, together with less „abuser potential“ made him more approachable. He was definitely the most attractive male singer in this production.
            Ruitken as Aspasia still puzzles me, musically she is very, very good and transports emotion very well in her arias, but for me this doesn’t really come across in her acting. But then, I also don’t like the directing choices for her character and that might be the main problem. The image of the tough business woman is not a bad idea in genera but somehow it doesn’t work for me in the overall picture.
            And I really miss Dumaux, as you wrote Anik, this production also makes us appreciate many aspects of Paris even more.

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          5. Yes, Dumaux… *sigh*. We talked, a while ago, on how the voices that resonate with us are so much a personal, instinctive thing, so much of it may simply be a matter of taste.

            The directing for Aspasia is something your comment made me think about because you are right, the legs on the table are rude, and she is painted much more as an upper echalon player with a calculating edge. I need to rewatch that scene again and, oh, why don’t rewatch the whole thing on the side while writing my next lecture? I found Ruiten’s acting fine, but I went with a mindset of “no way will the acting level measure up to Petibon”. It would be interesting to get a chance to swap Aspasias, to see how Ruiten would deal with the heightened intensity of the Paris take, and to see how Petibon would take the more distanced politician’s role and mold it to her special brand of intensity.

            Spyres *did* look good (I still protest the white spray in his hair), and I am kind of torn since he was more in control of his sound here and could show off more artistry in that regard, but I continue to be drawn to the power of his (more youthful, more intense) Paris interpretation. We’re lucky that we have both!

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      3. ps- don’t mind me, i’m just dropping comments while i’m supposed to be packing..
        On the sound, they all wore mic. That translates to much clearer sound right at their bodies rather than how it’s projected into the hall? I don’t know how small La Monnaie is but it does appear all singers were able to sing very soft with a lot of nuances (but again Paris is different with the focus on emotion). The pit has all sorts of mic, and i’m glad CR kept everything nicely controlled in volume. In Paris I did notice the difference between the radio broadcast and video (some hollow ringing if listening on headset) hence i swapped out audio for the Paris’ Lungi da te clip.

        Lastly, i’m not fully understanding your terminology of “vertical” vs “horizontal” (you don’t need to explain any time soon) when it comes to conducting, though i hear a very clear difference. If I have to put it into my terminology, i hear Haïm’s as “vertically integrated” where the entire air-space is filled with some texture within the orchestra (aurally) where as CR’s is more concentrated (I think you might have called it “tight”). So one does not get as much 1-on-1 interaction between orchestra + singers (where singers are almost integrated in such that singer+orchestra become 1) this time as in Paris.

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        1. Are you actually awake again already?

          Horizontal vs. vertical, real quick: scores are instrumental layers put onto one another. If I describe something as horizontal, I mean something that is overall a blended image focused on one (detailed, colored, whatever – ) sound thought ahead as a line or a field.

          If I describe something as vertical, I mean something that tears open a view down to the bottom of the instrumental sea, with the parts more in view, and thought less as a progressive line, and more as a beat that goes deep, deep, deep into the moment.

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          1. ps- i’ll bug you when back from my trip, because this whole reply doesn’t ring a bell for me, and when that happens i know there’s simply a gap in understanding / no being able to identify with (in concept+terminology)🙂 .
            (yes.. packing and finishing up some stuff then off to flight.. good luck w/ paper filing!)

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          2. save travels to you!

            once you get back, I should have my desk cleared enough to get knee-deep into descriptions of musical/instrumental axes.😉

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  2. PP’s facial expression: I think this also was the core point I was missing here, but yes, since PP is so exceptional one couldn’t expect the same of Ruitken. Still, during the first part of lungi I found her expression really too bland considering the way Sifare was adressing her and her supposedly being seduced by this.
    In general I found it very difficult to connect to the Aspasia character here (not Ruitken’s fault, rather directing choices). In example, why is she so demonstratively bored during Ismene’s aria after the second interval especially since this was really a moving piece as delivered by Saturova (table on the feet might look attractive but in the context I found it quite rude).
    I absolutely agree with your review comparing Paris and Brussels, Anik, but I’m also not sure, since the polit setting was chosen if this could have been more on that basis. Many libretto contents just can’t really make sense in that setting (as it can’t with most non-traditional settings actually) so, yes, to put it in the theatre play context and thus out of any specific time or scenery was a wonderful idea in the Paris production.

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      1. Oh, you’re right, it’s there! It’s so cool there are people out there who spend so much time and effort in making these things available and even subtitling as in this case.
        But first I’ll re-watch Brussels Mitridate with your review in mind, paying more attention to details…

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        1. I\m finishing up paper I need to file before midnight, but then I|ll reward myself with some rewatching, too!

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  3. While the show is running again in Brussels, I am on a leisurely rewatch and have to say I am taking less issue with DH the second time around. It may just be timbre idiosyncrasies that don’t click with me.
    Ruiten has an understated foxiness to her acting – something only discernible in repeat view, a way of where to place place a hand or how to angle a leg to underscore the energy of the scene without really drawing attention. I find it is more how she angles/carries herself than facial expressions.
    Lastly, I think I found my conducting metaphors: Rousset is William Powell in a suit with an effortlessly elegant pochette. Haïm is young Marlon Brando in a sleeveless undershirt, all sensual and vibrant power, barely contained.
    Both are good. One should definitely have both in the collection. With whom one would go to bed on a given day… A matter of personal taste?

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    1. It’s not that I think Ruiten’s acting was bad, this is more a directorial problem for me and the ways a singer/actor can influence character display are of course limited. But also, as you suggest, I’d love to see Petibon in the role of the Brussels Aspasia. If we are to connect to this ‘calculating politician’ there should be more conflictedness visible and we have to understand reasons for her being the way she is and I think PP would have found ways to communicate this. I don’t think it would have worked the other way around though, because the heightened intensity of Paris you quote is to a great part created by PP and her dynamics with MP and changing that would have kind of changed the essence of that production.
      Hansen: On relistening I had the impression it just didn’t fit his tessitura so well (dehggial also mentioned something like this I think) because he was much stronger in the higher parts but still, also his timbre didn’t really fit the character in my view.
      Like your conducting metaphors, horizontal/vertical also makes much sense!

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      1. true, I think I could see cast changes in Brussels, but not in Paris… probably also because Paris seems so tailored to the cast, while in Brussels, there is more focus on the overall “event”, although that does not transport much via video, and I find myself looking for character cues where likely there weren’t any designed.

        Vulnerability/conflictedness – I am trying to follow that thread now as I watch, also in relation to Sifare who is shown here as much more assertive overall (storming over to kiss Aspasia early on, later on, upon thinking that Aspasia might be interested in Farnace instead, acting out like an entitled jerk…), but he still gets to be vulnerable – or perhaps that is the singer?

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      2. a PS. after reviewing “Lungi da te” again – a core difference between Ruiten and Petibon may be that Ruiten is more “hold the atmosphere, but don’t do anything added to it, to give space to the singing stage partner” whereas Petibon is “React, react, react this is a scene with more than one person and I’ll give you a hell of a reason to sing this precisely this way.”

        Regarding “who gets up when and why”: there is some some nice conflicted Sifare, even some desperate pleading in the last “Mi scordo ancor di me” that is readable as just the bit (if brief) needed to give weight to the transition (I was likely too distracted to notice the first three times I watched this because Shirt and Legs and Hands and Mozart and oh my.)

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      3. yes, i think independent of PP, this scene needs more feedback in facial expression from Aspasia given how much there is in Sifare’s. I think when the zoom-in is not there it’s not an issue, but given the fact they’re doing this very specific zoom, Aspasia’s expression is not reflecting what Sifare is expressing, creating a very big disconnection. At times she’s even smiling a little bit and with the camera switching between the faces of the two of them it even created an impression she’s smirking at Sifare’s raw and intense emotion.

        It made me keep going back to Paris because PP’s facial expression was so incredible, *every* single time I watched, especially the moment when Sifare looks back after the first section of Lungi (just before the 2nd, still in part A of the aria), she turned with a gentle touch to her abdomen and I feel “sick” inside thinking of the situation they are in with no solution (that’s the feeling one should get in this hopeless situation i think..) . THe 2nd time she did was even more devastating (in facial expression) when she turned toward the door walking in after the 2nd run of Lungi just ended (right before section B).

        I think this is the issue with direction not putting emphasis on cue / reaction to your partner and left it to the singers, and some are more expressive than others in receiving/reciprocating to contribute the feeling/scene.

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        1. Sifares vulnerability.: Yes, I absolutely agree with both of you! Like Aspasia he is generally portrayed as someone who plays the political game well (like in his media appearances) but, and it seems likely this comes from MP herself, she expresses so much more emotion and makes his conflict visible and comprehensible. Yes, he seems desperate towards the end of Lungi da te, and in this light I thought, that maybe he was not really trying to ‘seduce’ her in the beginning in the sense of something with a clear goal in mind. Admittedly, taking of clothes and tie very slowly is hard to interpret as something ‘just happening while it should not’, but somehow, given MPs expressions here, it would be more plausible for me this way, while him claculating on seducing her and then changing his mind the moment he gets what he was trying to achieve just doesn’t make sense.
          It was probably not what the director intended though, as you said, this scene was likely more about filling the aria with some action (but not as much as that the audience could feel embarassed).

          Unrelated to this scene: My fascination with the Paris Mitridate I used to mainly put down to this great ensemble, the excellent staging and Haims brilliant conducting, but, hearing the Brussels take again, Mozarts genius at that very young age gets more and more obvious to me, and I just can’t believe his early operas have been so rarely played until quite recently (at least that’s my impression). Also, why did I believe people postulating his early works would not come anywhere near his later operas and were thus not really worth to engage with? While indeed his later works may be a class on their own and among the best ever written, this is really great music!

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          1. I wholeheartedly agree, it is fantastic music. And I like “Mitridate” even more than the later “Silla”. Later Mozart is a different thing (and Mozart is absolutely “IT” for me) because he has moved past seria then (with the exception of “Tito”), but as someone who loves the older model and seria, to have Mozart take it on is such a gift because it still is the dramaturgy, but it is also so out of this world in expressing moder “modern” emotionality.

            “Audience feeling embarrassed” (that “Alcina”, again? ;-> ) — yes, that clearly was not the case, but I have to admit I was someone put off in thinking that it might have been put in there for the opposite reason: gratuitiously (because it is so difficult to resolve narratively in the end, so it serves no clear purpose within the diegesis).
            And the fact that this didn’t turn into some gratuitous make-out sequence is entirely owed to the performance (particularly MP) – too much emotion to be ‘consumed’ as pretty pictures (i.e. in an objectifying manner).

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          2. PS. Agathe, I also like your take on this as not some pre-plotted seduction on Sifare’s part, but as perhaps simply searching for and offering a connection to Aspasia, in a spur of the moment (and in that, emotional and physical connection feed into each other).

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          3. Yes, that’s what I meant, thanks for putting it into words! Also what you say about Aspasia mainly trying to use Sifare for her purposes makes a lot of sense, e.g. when she hands him this little ‘flagholder’ during Al destin and Sifare immediately drops a few of the flags, it seems to illustrate that she is in charge and he makes himself vulnerable by his affections for her. Also it seemed in the recit you quote that Farnace was listening and laughing out loud in the end, maybe he actually understands her calculating moves, maybe because their characters are alike? (Oh, and couldn’t they have left the recit without cuts in Paris?). I have not come to the second half with rewatching yet but will pay special attention if and when she falls for Sifare later (otherwise, this directoral choice really jeopardizes the essence of the libretto in my view).
            The planes, I thought this was played in to underline the international conference setting wchich I thought was supposed to take place in an airport, but it really was very realistic.

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        2. Since the overall focus is not so much on individual emotions are causes of the political intrigue, but it’s rather on the intrigue that causes some emotion, perhaps the difference in emotion in that scene was intentional?
          but that still leaves your final conclusion standing, I think.
          This “I am reacting, but lowkey, to not hog the scene” is something I find very common (one of these unspoken opera conventions…), but it can really take away from the depth of the situation depicted.

          (apart from the exception ability and commitment Petibon has in that regard – the kind where she could just look at someone across the stage for the entire ten minutes and still end up with Person B and the audience ‘needing a cigarette’😉 )

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    2. the more i listen the more i have issues w/ DH’s voice… guess i’ll just leave it at that and ff through…

      a friend just gave me a video of Leonard Bernstein explaining Bach where the first thing from the video i heard was him using “horizontal vs vertical” terminology! that should help me understand more methinks.

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  4. Rewatching Aspasia:
    the impression I get very early on, before “Al destin…”, when Sifare is confessing his feelings and Aspasia smirks: Aspasia seems kind of surprised, but then immediately tries to gauge how to use Sifare’s feelings as leverage. Look how she schedules her features before turning back to him. Perhaps the character layout was for Aspasia to start calculating, and only end up falling for Sifare later (if she even does)?

    Also in that recit: there are far fewer cuts here (it is not full here, either). Sifare’s meltingly smooth “Risolvere dovrò di non vederti?” (cut in Paris) is swoontastic, and then take the more calculating reply by Aspasia (also cut in Paris) of “Help me first, and then perhaps you’ll know my heart a little better…”: here, it looks like a consious decision on Aspasia’s part to dangle the carrot in front of the donkey’s nose.

    PS. “Al destin…”: *someone* is taking a little extra moment with the Greek flag while rearranging the banner cake.

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    1. i noticed all the things you mentioned here re Sifare 1st time around, particularly that nice reflection w flag, and several more bidy gestures + brushes… give me the camera and we might see a very diff opera😉
      (ps- note on PP s expression: VK is incredible in this too, i spend inordinate amnt of time observing in romeo, rosina (!), octavian, and ruggiero… and thats why whenever i saw her the story would make sense! here we r trying to guess if Aspasia was really amirking or not
      .. but i love the detail Agathe (or you?) mentioned on how right from the start Sifare was already “dropping” things distracted… yes, perhaps revealing the card too much

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      1. yes, that stumbling and dropping half the flag cake intentionally situates Sifare as also being played, as perceptive/vulnerable – but it is still inconsistent, even if is only about Aspasia, when it comes to the general assertiveness beyond that. Or is it supposed to be “bravado in the streets, fumbling when actually facing the coloratura soprano”? It’s another of these things, I think, where a fun moment was superimposed over the character narrative.

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          1. yes, precisely!
            (unless it is an aria so well sung he could not help himself at that point. I have had the final cadenza stuck in my head all afternoon!)

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          2. i havnt a chance to rewatch, argh! but a q: did Aspasia smirk again after Sifare tried to plant? then it was true the dangling carrot! perhaps i was too busy following the suit and planting to notice…

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          3. no (at least not in that scene, will have to rewatch more closely) – she seems flustered and then rushes off in annoyance at that breech of etiquette.

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          4. still annoyed with the inconsistencies.. a non-optimal use of her talent/efforts.. i can see why sometimes even when singers try to reveal aspects of the characters the moving parts got in the way..

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          5. Oh, here your typo, thadieu (you wrote ‘tring to plant’), left me puzzled for a moment, trying to figure out what this expression means, but now I get it🙂 I don’t know, it’s not a real inconsistency to me, he is simply not in control in front of her and his attempt did seem very spontaneous while not at all acceptable behaviour during a polit conference, so it was surely not planned (and it was a very well sung Aria, although I still love PP’s final cadenza even more). Him playing the polit game so well in front of everyone else, controlling the media etc. kind of underlines his strong feeling for Aspasia.

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      2. I definitely have to see more of VK, she is an incredible singer of course, but the short clip of the Vienna Alcina you linked a while ago was quite an eye opener for me with regard to her acting and stage presence

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        1. i casually dropping off one of my fav VK’s acting sequences.. she was so great watching live!

          i still working out the 180deg turn of Sifare here.. i think somehow the switch was a bit too fast the first time i saw it, but it’s true i was watching with a different idea for Aspasia’s reaction.. just managed to get through the first 25min again and it’s true Aspasia does look quite calculated here! it even looks to me she’s indeed putting on a little “ah ha, got you” smile after Sifare attempted the plant… will need to investigate more.. but just to mention how much i enjoyed Sifare’s gestures/movements in the first 25min.. no time yet for further investigations, this waking up at 7.30am schedule is killing me..

          (oh yes, the acting like a jerk, i thought it was very well acted! but the “switch” immediately after throwing the pen was a bit too quick somehow i feel.. might need more watching.. perhaps tomorrow night.., lurking reading your (both of you) comments on the run and enjoying..)

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          1. That’s interesting because for me it worked, in the “Che intento? Che ascoltai?” moment, because of the 180: he’s thunderstruck, and his entire world does an 180 at that moment. It also makes previous anger more relatable in retrospect because it shows the underbelly of hurt/feeling continuously manipulated that Agathe pointed out.

            (There will also be a post and then some to analyze the character cues for Sifare, of course. Fabulous excuse for screencap posting!)

            >

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          2. Thank you for the link, thadieu, that is a wonderful sequence! (I will have to do some thorough comparing with Angelika Kirchschlagers Octavian, whom I was so lucky to hear life in that role)
            …writing this the second time, because I managed to crash the browser, being so distracted by this running in the background and what did I want to write again?…
            Ah yes, Sifare’s 180 turn in Che intento? Che ascoltai?, it makes total sense to me and is quite a moving moment because as you say, Anik, his whole world depends on what she is saying and him growing so quiet, illustrates the overwhelming effect of her confession on him. I also love “Oh momento fatale…”.

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          3. PS. 7:30? With working until 4 a.m. again? Ugh. Hang in there! (My own rewatching hasn’t moved much past the First Act yet, either – due to work, but also due to constant rewinding)

            >

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          4. also, on VK: that is a sequence that depends so much on precise cueing – and it is composed so precisely! – and while most singers get the cues there, VK manages to make them look like a flow. Great example of her coordinating character cues with the music, really.

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  5. Rewatching “Soffre il mio cor”:
    …is it possible that the temporary Monnaie venue is somewhere in a flight traffic zone? And the overhead noise is planes going by overhead that don’t really understand the importance of certain soprano arias or duets?!

    Lovely with Rousset: the freely ornamented/variated A’ parts.

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    1. yes, i love the variation in that part A too! heard it first time and thought did i miss the section B already?? but it turned out was already free variation first part (the reward one gets for finally knowing by heart *1* version of all Sifare’s arias..)

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      1. Aspasia is still playing him during “Soffre il mio cor” (even if not outright smirking) – listening and posing, and keeping a distance – another difference, that he simply walks up and uts his hands on her shoulders, and she just stiffens and then refuses to acknowledge him – but at some point between that and “Nel sen mi palpita”, he must have grown on her? (well, or it is another case of “Aria so well sung that resistance evaporated quickly”)

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        1. argh.. still not able to relisten/rewatch… am off to an obligatory “party” while 1/2 asleep and still need to prep talk for 8.30am demain… after which i will celebrate tomorrow night w rewatch…

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          1. fingers crossed for your talk & looking forward to more rewatching/commenting afterwards!

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        2. I think I’m sticking with this – Aspasia’s is gradually bewitched with “Soffre il mio cor” (and it’s not just her…) and warming up to S.
          Also another fun moment from Farnace here – other than that look saying “tone it done, I’m trying to talk on the phone here” – who looks at Sifare pouring his heart out in embarrassment and rolls his eyes as if to say “Dear God, which part of ‘tone it down’ don’t you get?”

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          1. During the reversed grasp Aspasia does seem to waver but then she immediately gets a knowing, mocking look from Farnace reminding her to watch herself better and this may explain why she still remains reserved in front of Sifare in the following scenes.
            Hansen acts very well indeed, he is a ‘danger’ in a different way then Dumaux’s Farnace, more scheming, he just seems to wait to sell them to the press.
            Acting-wise I also like the assistant, very authentic!

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          2. yes, the assistant is good! I got stuck yesterday on how matter-of-factly she cleans away Mitridate’s drug kit. Also, in rewatcing, I think the drug sequence makes sense in relation to the following aria (Quel ribelle quell’ingrato), which is a wild outburst hard to integrate into the seasoned political player image, so perhaps the drugs are the explanation why he explodes there?
            The framing work Hansen does as Farnace for both “Al destin” and “Soffre il mio cor” as ‘the public’ is essential to get Aspasia here, I think. He really anchors the first two arias as a malevolent audience – scoffing at Aspasia’s rhetorics and mocking Sifare’s declarations (but also, damn is Sifare ever a jerk when he confronts Aspasia about Farnace in Act II. Definitely took a page from Daddy dearest there).

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          3. He behaves like a jerk all right, but he is incredible hurt and has good reasons for it (as we discussed with regard to Paris), even more so in this production because Aspasia only using him is probably not far from the truth, at least in the beginning. So he desperately tries to protect himself and thus falls back to playing the strong man, as learned from Daddy, yes, he even uses the same hand gesture.
            I really like Spyre’s interpretation of the last “tu che fidel mi sei” which comes across as ‘I’m trying to be patient and generous here but you are giving me no choice’.
            The drugs: In general they would be a good explanation for Mitridate acting unpredictable and impulsive, also they could account for him having been missing and rumoured dead. But, as you wrote earlier on, we do not get any further information about this topic, possible reasons why he was drawn to drugs and how this affects his personality, while in reality it would probably take a central place in this person’s motives and reactions. For me it falls a bit into the category of things added for effect/provocation without having been thought through in more detail. Also, in this specific scene, while it may have been intended the way you suggest, it does not make sense from a medical point of view because he is using IV-drugs, presumably opioids, and those wouldn’t make a person more aggressive, rather the opposite, so it’s unlikely they would make him explode in the following aria. Him sniffing cocaine would have been more plausible, anyway that would more likely be the drug of choice in a high achieving and overworked person.

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          4. I think we will have to look at that whole jerk/not jerk and why discussion again, it was so intriguing the last time around!
            What makes it more palatable to me (yelling at people is not okay — I say that so often these days to the <5 crowd…😉 ) is the reaction in Sifare who does a 180 when he finally gets that Aspasia has fallen for him in return (I keep locating it in "Soffre il mio cor") and grows very, very still.

            Thank you for your input on the drugs. I had not thought about this at all – I agree with you, it seems like one of these momentary things put in for effect, and after your explanation, it should have been cocaine (harder to stage while you sing though, right?) and it would have worked mcuh better with a but more context (it does not appear anywhere later, either, or I ahve not caught it yet?).

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  6. Rewatching: “Nel sen mi palpita”:
    chuckling at Sifare motioning for Farnace to “stay put, or else!” while he rushes out to get help for Aspasia. (42:50 at ARTE)

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  7. 01:08:30 (first Ismene aria):
    1) Sifare about to help another fallen soprano to their feet, then reconsidering.
    2) my favorite Arbate moment so far: being embarrassed by the display. *LOL*

    recit afterwards: Mitridate seems aware that Sifare is in love with Aspasia, even though Arbate says differently, or at least he does not trust Arbate’s statement. Look at that cynical gesture of “yeah, right, that doesn’t prove anything” he gives in reply.

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  8. From the comments on the Monnaie FB page it seems that the venue is really in a flight zone and that the noises are not directorial choices but indeed planes flying overhead.
    And flying overhead precisely in Soffre il mio cor and Se viver non degg’io, that is some awful heteronormative flying out there. Just sayin’. The sound editors will have to work some magic if this will go to DVD.

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  9. The recit between Mitridates “Tu che fedel mi sei” works well here, I think – the political setting gives it a completely different slant, but I think it transports: calculating, pressure, “What will the press think”: that may be a good translation for that Baroque junction of political and personal that is so difficult to transport today.

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    1. Yes, looking at it like this the political setting in general makes more sense although I still find it very difficult to take marriage as a means of alliances between countries and people being sentenced to death serious in this ‘modern Brussels’ setting.
      On rewatching Ismene’s last aria ‘Tu sai per chi m’accese’ and looking up the libretto again, I may have found an explanation for Aspasias rude behaviour in this scene: Ismene is pleading to Mitridate to have mercy on Aspasia here. Considering that Aspasia is a successful and confident politician who can usually stand up for herself and may even be a political rival to Ismene, this must be a very humiliating experience to Aspasia. Like Sifare before she has manoevred herself into a vulnerable position by her love for him and she absolutely hates it. So acting like that she tries to demonstrate to Ismene that she doesn’t care for her support, while not being able to openly reject it, for her own and Sifare’s sake.

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      1. Oh, that is a good explanation – I will have to rewatch with that in mind, thank you!

        I’ll try and get an Aspasia post up later, for discussing character cues. My own thorough rewatch is only in early Act Two, so I’ll likely expand in upcoming weeks. And every 50 or 70 comments we may need a new discussion post as to not have comments get overlooked in their multitude (I’ll link back to previous posts, to make the whole discussion trackable).

        Va bene, off I go to lecture my students on prostitution in 15th century Florence…

        >

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