The prettiest love duet

During the COC Ensemble Studio competition, I discovered that someone else –John Gilks of operaramblings and I share similar views about a particular piece of music.

Saturday the Met High Definition broadcast will be Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, and the COC are presenting this opera in 2013.  Among the many numbers in this work, there’s one in particular.  The love duet of Annio & Servilia shows such an exquisite balance of two extraordinary people: “Ah, perdona al primo affetto.”

As we stood there chatting I tossed out a slightly loopy thought: that it’s the most beautiful love duet ever written, and to my surprise John not only agreed, but also went on to admit he does something I do: listens to the many wonderful versions one can find on youtube.

There are quite a few.

When Opera Atelier presented the opera recently I took advantage in a review to post a couple of versions of this wonderful composition.  Hey I only posted two.

  • A video version, Ivanova with Garanca
  • An audio-only version: Lucia Popp & Frederica von Stade

This seems especially timely given that I’ve been reading and blogging about Lydia Perović’s novel Incidental Music, which includes multiple lesbian love stories.  While the connection may not seem obvious, operas rarely show lesbian relationships (although I was watching Berg’s Lulu just a couple of days ago, which is one of the very few), but they do often show two women, so long as one is dressed as a man.  Crazy? Not if you remember the stage as a place for vicarious display & an invitation to a voyeuristic audience, in an otherwise prudish & repressed society. And so this duet is between two women, where one is understood to be a man.

The beauty of this duet is in the way the lines repeat.  The mezzo-soprano begins, singing in the thicker voice of the two.  Shortly thereafter, the soprano sings the same basic line right back, but in a higher clearer voice.  In some ways it resembles the jazzy improvisational  aspect of older operas, where the da capo portion of an aria is elaborated: or embellished & expanded in the repetition.  By singing two almost identical lines one after the other, we get something similar, from the contrast of the voices, but much quicker than in a da capo aria.  I wonder if Mozart expected additional elaboration?  Even sung exactly as written, the contrast between the two voices and the concluding section where both sing together is pure heaven.

Isabel Leonard

You can go hunt down more versions on youtube.

You can also go hear this wonderful, and still relatively unappreciated opera in the Met’s high definition broadcast Saturday Dec 1st.

And yes, the Canadian Opera Company are also producing La Clemenza di Tito Feb 3-22nd, 2013, starring Isabel Leonard.

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2 Responses to The prettiest love duet

  1. Pingback: Ten Questions for Christopher Enns | barczablog

  2. Pingback: Psychological portraits: Tito’s Rome | barczablog

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