Tag Archives: mozart

On Stage: Titus (La Clemenza Di Tito)

So I’m sitting on the couch watching “Parks and Recreation” when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess where we’re going?”

“Uh…tell me.”

“The opera!”

“Oh, thank God. I thought you were going to say a Cardinals baseball game.”

“See. There are fates worse than opera.”

And so it was that we made yet another trek to the¬†Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of “Titus La clemenza di Tito,” the final opera written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I am familiar with the works of Mozart (I’m not totally culturally illiterate — I have seen “Amadeus.”) so I figured this would be decent. Even if I’d never heard of it.

Titus-image

The story is a complex one, evidenced by the six-paragraph synopsis in the program. Do you know why they provide you with the entire plot of the show before you watch an opera or Shakespeare play? It’s because you would never understand otherwise. I have learned that the key to understanding opera and Shakespeare is to commit the synopsis to memory as best you can, and then let the show just wash over you. Reread the synopsis during intermission. Maybe you’ll understand it, maybe you won’t – but at least you’ll be able to follow along. Somewhat.

“Titus” takes place in ancient Rome. Vitellla (Laura Wilde) is the daughter of the deposed emperor. She hopes to maintain her status by marrying the new emperor — the too-nice-to-truly-be-an-emperor Tito (Rene Barbera). Tito wants to marry someone else so Vitella figures the only logical thing to do is have him killed.

To do the dirty deed, she enlists the aid of her lover Sesto (Cecelia Hall), who is also best friend to Tito. The plot fails, Sesto is imprisoned, and Vitella has to decide if she should reveal her role in the incident and possibly save her cohort from a fate equal to death.

There’s more to it but you get the gist. “Titus” is one of Mozart’s lesser works but still entertaining. The music is lovely and the musicians are very good. The songs (do they call them songs in opera? Liberettos, then. Or whatever) were challenging but the cast was up to the challenge.

The costumes were lavish. The set design was sparse, in large part because they blew the whole budget on a giant Eagle statue. It hung over the stage, fell to earth at the appropriate time, then rose like a phoenix when required. It was pretty cool.

Remaining performances for “Titus” run June 18, 22 and 24. ¬†https://www.opera-stl.org/

 

 

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A Night at the Opera

So it’s Friday morning and I’m watching last night’s “Late Show” (it’s drum solo week!) and The Wife comes in and says,

“Guess what we’re doing tonight?”

“Watching the witty political commentary of Mark Shields and David Brooks on the PBS Newshour?”

“No, we’re going to the Opera!”

“What? Wait. What? We just went to Shakespeare last night.”

“Yes. And tonight we’re going to see ‘Don Giovanni.’ Isn’t this the best week ever?”

“No. Wait. What? I’ve never been to the opera. When did I agree to this?”

“I bought these tickets months ago.”

“You did? Wait. Now I see. I agreed months ago to go with you to the opera in June because I had been assured that The Rapture would happen in May. Stupid Harold Camping.”

“I’m so sorry the world didn’t end and now you have to go to the opera.”

“Is this more of this ‘The Report needs more culture thing’ that you’ve been harping on? ‘Cause we just did Shakespeare. And I wrote a lovely poem about cicadas. Nothing nerdy about any of that.”

“You’ve never been to the opera. You need to go to the opera. You need to experience opera.”

“Going to the opera is not on my bucket list. The opera is what people make fun of on sitcoms. You know what is on my bucket list? Going to ComicCon. Why don’t you ever come in here one morning and say, ‘Guess what we’re doing today? We’re going to ComicCon! We’ll wear those lovely his-and-hers Thor costumes that your sister made us for Halloween.'”

“That’s not happening. Now, meet me at my mother’s house at 6.”

“Don Giovanni. Is that the one where Elmer Fudd has all of Thor’s powers and he’s trying to kill Bugs Bunny and in response Bugs dresses up like a woman and Elmer falls in love with her and they get married but then Bugs’ wig falls off and Elmer is so enraged that he kills Bugs? ‘Cause I really liked that one.”

“No. This is not ‘What’s Opera, Doc?'”

“Rats.”

And so it was that The Wife and I drove to the Loretto-Hilton Center in Webster Groves for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (you can tell they’re classy because they spell out ‘saint’ and they spell theater wrong) production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s classic “Don Giovanni.”

I had never been to the Loretto-Hilton before and it’s a very nice venue. We were in the last row, left of stage, which was fine because it’s a small theater. We were also on the aisle, which was awesome, especially when the people in front of us didn’t come back after intermission so I could put my feet in the chair in front of me. You can take a hick to the opera…

I pull out the envelope with the tickets in it. On the envelope it says ‘Don Giovanni runs approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes with intermission.’ Wait. What? Three hours and 15 minutes? God give me strength. I get angry when movies run over two hours — even movies I like. I realize that back in the 16-1700s there weren’t a lot of entertainment options so sitting through a three-hour opera was probably great fun if that was the only thing available. But I could sit through 20 or so YouTube videos in this time frame. Not ones with cats.

Opera Theatre Saint Louis presents its productions in English, which I suspect offends some opera snobs, but I’m not one of them and I appreciated the talent singing in a language I understand. The theater also had multiple video screens on the walls that periodically post the song lyrics. Again, a modern twist that I wholly support.

The show started promptly at 8 p.m. A man stands on a stage made to look like a Parisian street. He goes over to the wall and begins to relieve himself.

Opera. So Classy. I’ve been wrong about it all along.

The score is performed by members of the St. Louis Symphony and they did an excellent job. The music was first-rate, but hey, it’s Mozart. It should be.

The cast was also excellent (I especially liked Levi Hernandez as Leoprello, Don’s right-hand man). I’m not a big fan of opera singing, but there’s no denying it’s challenging to perform and the talent was up to the task. Opera is one of those things, like most sports, that is better live than trying to watch on television. The set design was spartan but effective.

As to the story — it was simple enough and the cast was small enough that I had no problem following along and keeping everyone straight. Unlike Every Shakespeare Play I’ve Ever Seen.

On the flip side, there really isn’t enough story here to justify a 3-hour show. I found the second act largely superfluous and repetitious (yes, yes, Donna Anna can’t get over her father’s murder. yes, yes Elvira can’t get over being snubbed by Don. Stop singing about it). Also, the entire second act takes place at night so the lighting is muted and I started suffering eye strain by the end. The actors pointing pen-lights all over didn’t help.

And the ending — well, Mozart may be a musical genius, but not necessarily a storytelling genius. SPOILER ALERT: After a lifetime of using women and the occasional murder, Don hides out at a crypt where he invites a statue to come to his house for dinner. Don is eating dinner and the statue shows up. The statue tells Don to repent of his sins or be sent to Hell. Don refuses and the gates of Hell open up and Don is dragged in. The people Don has wronged show up afterwards and celebrate.

And I thought the ending of “Watchmen” was stupid (alien-squid version, not movie version). Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed the ending. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching a statue send a guy into Hell? But it’s so strange. It comes totally out of left field. And it’s just as ridiculous as any comic book story. Mozart has nothing on Stan Lee.

So, overall I must admit I enjoyed my first trip to the opera. The first act was excellent (I understand now why the guys in front of us left early), and the odd ending makes up for the long slog in the middle. It probably would have helped if I had seen this fresh and not spent the night before at the Shakespeare fest. I will say I enjoyed “Donny G” more than most Shakespeare I’ve witnessed.

The Wife has already found two shows she wants to go to next year. I hope you appreciate this, culture lovers.

Don Giovanni runs through June 25. www.opera-stl.org