The Brussels “Mitridate”, cont’d: “Aspasia’s Diary”

[“Exactly how did I get here?!” – A post to continue our discussion of character cues for Aspasia (and related characters) as started here. I am assuming it will go… hand-in-hand?  – Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Brussels 2016.]

Of course, this is nothing but a flimsy excuse for a lengthy, campy screencap post (all caps: click to expand). I am particularly fond of all the variations of the “I’m done with this!” look that this Aspasia seems to keep at hand.

(A note to start: My own extended (=screencapping) rewatch has not ventured much beyond Act I, but since the point we were discussing was how this Aspasia falls/doesn’t fall for Sifare and how that works out during “Lungi da te”, I think we’re set. Caps of later scenes as well as from Sifare’s perspective to follow in due time, of course. We are nothing if not diligent. For research.)

And now for some exclusive content from The Diary of Aspasia, Greek Delegate at the Brussels Summit! (Yes, I blame this entry on cough meds and too many student papers)

…featuring, so that I don’t have to list the singers under every capture:
Aspasia “I am surrounded by idiots”, Princess of Greece: Lenneke Ruiten
Farnace “You pop that gum one more time”, Prince of Pontus: David Hansen
Sifare aka Legato Game, also Prince of Pontus: Myrtò Papatanasiu
Mitridate “Madamina-il-contratto-e-questo”, King of The Universe Pontus: Michael Spyres
Ismene of Parthia, currently enjoying a day off at the spa: Simona Šaturová
Marzio of Rome, likely also at the spa: Sergey Romanovsky
Arbate, Delegate on the Heteronormativity Committee: Yves Saelens

Dear Diary,

This summit is turning into a conundrum.

done done so done - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016 Staging/Concept: le lab Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia)

I am largely surrounded by idiots with a tendency to mansplain…

prendero quel brunettino - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016 Staging/Concept: le lab Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) David Hansen (Farnace)

…and I am stuck in a game of “Prenderò quel brunettino?” (Only I’m not so sure it’s a game any longer)

You see, Diary, there are these brothers –


I think they both have a crush on me. Which is kind of awkward, since they’re Mitridate’s kids, even though Mitridate has gone missing. (thank God. He was getting pushy.)

…I’m of course keeping my professional distance! See my very professional posture?

quellamacchiavella - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016 Staging/Concept: le lab Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia) Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

Well, to be honest, dear Diary, I’m *mostly* keeping my professional distance. I’m trying to network, after all. And Sifare would certainly be easier to handle than Daddy Dearest.  (P.S. He’s also kind of cute)

precarious balance - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

He’s also kind of clumsy around me.
(which is also kind of cute)
(Not that I care, dear Diary)

and I said you pop that gum one more time... - Mozart, „Mitridate“. Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. David Hansen (Farnace)

And then there’s the other one. Farnace. It’s not that he’s bad-looking, but he’s a brat. (Also, I think he’s making eyes at Marzio, too.)
And he kept chewing… and popping… and chewing… And I said: You pop that gum one more time…! 

the farnace is toast glare

(And he did.)

someonehasacrush - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia) Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

Dear Diary, I’m now comfortably certain that Sifare has a crush on me. He got that oddly distracted look when I was tearing into his brother. Like he wasn’t quite sure whether to be scared or thrilled. Likely both.
(I think this can work in my favor. I will bring my coloratura A game. Not that I would have any other!)


He got this soulful look right in the cadenza to end all cadenzas…


…and then he actually tried this.
(Cadenza was spot on. Go, me!)


Of course I rushed right past him in indignation.
(he got this cute befuddled look, though)
(I really should stop calling him ‘cute’. I’m just playing him for some Greece/Pontus contracts)

theaww how cute smirk - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

Look how invested he gets when it comes to ‘protecting’ me. (As if I’d need that. I run this joint!)

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). David Hansen (Farnace)

…and I did not come here to end up with the countertenor. Just so we are clear on that.

of all the coloratura joints in all the world... - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

It was all smooth sailing until Sifare started singing. I think the introduction – watch that Bogey trenchcoat – was “Of all the coloratura joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
(I lost my focus there for a minute)

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

I’ve got everything under control, dear Diary. Look at my unaffected smirk.

resistere non sa.png

…completely unaffected. But damn, that was some marvelous legato. – Focus, Aspasia, focus!

good legato will get you anywhere

Dear Diary, I am suddenly having second thoughts. And third thoughts.
(actually, thinking clearly is becoming a bit of a problem)


I think I may be swooning. (Just a little.)

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia)

I had to sit down for a minute. This was not part of the plan!

Aspasia is done - Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia)

Dear Diary, what am I supposed to do now?

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

…I’m caught between the Devil in and a Deep Blue Suit. *le sigh*

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). David Hansen (Farnace).

…Do I look like I’m listening to you, Farnace?
(he keeps getting in my space. I hate that.)

did I just get mansplained by a CT.png

“Did I just get talked over by a countertenor?”
Yes, you did. – Look at that Laocoonian entanglement of testosterone right there. (tenorsplaining, countersplaining, legatosplaining – what am I even doing here?!)

still so done.png

Arbate keeps working on the Heteronormativity Committee. With having been transposed down to tenor and all. Everyone tried out their best enthusiastic faces.


I may have had a little nervous breakdown.
(Legato Game kept getting in my space.)
(I didn’t mind.)


Dear Diary, this scene actually looks like some vague vision of the future in which my next phrase would be, “I think we should head to the clinic now.”

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia)

This isn’t helping.
I feel a migraine coming on, and it’s not the Viennese boudoir kind. I’m about to stuff some of these little flags in my ears to drown out the debate. Also, couldn’t they put something other than water in those bottles?!

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare). Michael Spyres (Mitridate).

One of these guys is not like the others.
(In other news, Mitridate is back. Pushy as ever!)


…and just as we were trying to have a moment, too!
(never be it said I wouldn’t know to appreciate a soprano in trousers at my feet)

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

Of course, it had to get awkward over the contracts that would have me signed over to Daddy Dearest. I didn’t even get a chance to explain, dear Diary!

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Michael Spyres (Mitridate). Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

He made S. watch as he signed, and had him hold the contracts to boot. Cold! And then he had the nerve to smirk at me!

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia)

*laser glare*

paperwork 2.png

Yikes. But also…no reaction? Hello, what’s with the Act One bravado?

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia)

Me. Confused.

Mozart, „Mitridate“ - Brussels/La Monnaie 2016. Staging/Concept: le lab. Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia). Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare)

Oh dear. Diary, this is going to be be one very awkward conversation.


Here we go. My love life?! Someone needs to buy a clue for $400.

amecarofarnace youdimwit.png

Me, into Farnace?
Excuse you! (dear Diary, am I entirely surrounded by dimwitted idiots? – No, don’t answer that.)


Sometimes, I wonder who got the brains in this family (clearly, it’s not Legato Game).


(When he gets a clue, however, he is adorable.)

note to self kick arbate of that hn committee

…very much so.
(Note to self: Get Arbate off that Heteronormativity Committee. He is beginning to annoy me.)


Sifare started to sing again.
(I had to sit down again.)
(thankfully, these chaises are roomy enough for two)

oh my.png

…which brings me back to my current predicament. Dear Diary, what ever shall I do?



70 thoughts on “The Brussels “Mitridate”, cont’d: “Aspasia’s Diary””

  1. Ah Anik you made my day (yes here it is 9am and I am back in office, not looking forward to it at all)! funny little captions got it all. A hundred likes! And oh why you stopped there, you bad….


    1. and now *I* am at the office… As the discussion progresses (and my screencapping progresses) I’ll post up more – am currently trying to figure out whose Diary we should “encouter” next. Perhaps Farnace’s, or Arbate’s? Or some more of Aspasia’s?


  2. Okay, I’ve been lurking for weeks, but this is too funny to pass up! LOL, Anik! “Focus, Aspasia, focus!” I look forward to further diary entries. 😀


    1. If it has managed to draw you out of lurking: purpose served!

      I know we’re still stuck on Aspasia’a motivations, but when we get to the duet, I’d really like your input. (also, we will have to discuss certain looks. Probably under a medical heading of “images that will cure any pulled muscles/joints immediately because every bone in your body will just melt into a puddle at the sight”.)


      1. Oh yes, absolutely, all of The Looks ™ will be under careful scrutiny. And if that means I have to watch the beginning of Lungi a few… dozen… times, well, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. For science. 🙂

        The duet is going to be an interesting conversation, yes. I look forward to other people’s input, too, particularly in the comparison to Paris. I’m coming at these viewings from a mostly theatre background with some vocal training in college, so there are opera-specific aspects that I’m probably missing when it comes to staging.

        If you’re taking votes on the next diary entry, Farnace’s would probably be the funniest, but I’m most intrigued by the completely different motivations this staging conferred on Ismene. Instead of basically playing a mother or older sister trying to keep the peace in an abusive household, the political setting changes her energy. I wonder what’s going on inside her head in Brussels.


  3. So – all goofy captioning aside – after having spent a considerable amount of time sorting through these captures (I know the order is not perfectly chronological, but I needed to take some liberties to amke the narrative work. Either way, the expressions should be clear), I tend to see the build-up for Aspasia as clearly going in calculating. She is then surprised and perhaps flattered by Sifare’s admission, and immediately tries to use that for her own agenda. She is beginning to reconsider in “Soffre il mio cor”, even though there is some continuous back and forth – as Agathe pointed out, reacting to the press/to Farnace who make her remember her poise. It took me a few times of watching to catch that, but I would say this was probably designated as a turning point. For “Nel sen mi palpita”, she’s so distraught that she allows herself to rely on Sifare – perhaps a sign of growing trust there – but it still does not look like a romantic tension there.
    (if we compare it Paris, the mutual affection was already established by the end of the first recit, and both “Al destin” and “Nel sen mi palpita” had a clear romantic point of reference when it came to Sifare)
    Something shifts or happens between Acts 1 and 2? Because when the recit before “Tu che fidel mi sei” starts, Aspasia is already Team Sifare, and I – while I amy have to take another look – don’t really get an impression of scheming there any longer (which would be an option, since she is under pressure and could think about allies). She seems genuinely affected and reacts closely to Sifare. Which leaves me with the conclusion that by the time we get aorund to “Lungi da te”, it is clear where her affections lay, whereas figuring out whether she will follow that impulse or not is something that is negotiated also across the course of that aria, and then in her own aria afterwards, which comes across here as more disillusioned because Sifare left (despite her offer that he wouldn’t have to?) and she finds herself alone, in addition to emotionally compromised in her polit game.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 🙂 🙂 :-)!
    (and I agree, the aria where she finds herself alone after Lungi is the scene where we finally see the true person, without any plotting, quite a strong moment for Ruiten.)


    1. that was a scene where I thought the blokcing with the extras and with Arbate worked really well because she came across the loneliest and lost when nest to others – in between the two orderlies with the flags, and then with Arbate who comes across as a cynic background power player when he rolls his eyes at Aspasia reaching out:

      I also find the slower speed and lower volume leading to that melancholy/sadness thread I pointed out before (it’s not as much gutting-on-the-edge-madness as Paris – perhaps resulting in a portrayal of much more loss because when you’re mad, you’re at least in some way pro-active). I also found the vid screens/tablet working well within the “politics” concept (it did not take away from the aria, in my impression).

      And I’d say the moment of “damn, I’ve fallen hard” is precisely at “Ingannata io son”, which she build up nciely before, and singles it out (2:06:20):

      (also, what is it with Paris Sifare and Brussels Aspasia arriving at declarations while holding onto items of clothing?!)

      On a side note, this production is much easier to cap than Paris because it is not so dark in the light design; the images come out sharper without having to edit (or are at least editable!)


      1. ‘Ingannata io son’: Her holding onto and looking at the blazer she was stripping off before may also be symbolic of her loosing control, I’d say.
        The tablet: Is she looking at a photo of Sifare here, à la “Dies Bildnis…” or maybe an Email? Would explain why she reacts so unnerved when Arbate approaches her at first.


        1. Heh. nice thought!
          Though it’s probably a black screen and we have to deduce the image from her acting?


  5. The duet scene, may I just start the discussion? After some re-watching it still just doesn’t really work for me. While the idea with the contract shredding is not even so bad and could maybe have worked when displayed as a quick and decisive action, it takes too much space here and distracts from the actual content of the scene. With Sifare constantly trying to persuade Aspasia to shred the contract in a rather playful way, the tragedy of their situation gets played down. Also, and this is of course in total contrast to Paris, they are mostly standing quite a distant apart, in a situation where this does not make sense from the libretto. Being positioned closer together would have also made it easier for the singers to coordinate their duet parts, e.g. the end of the final joined coloratura was not perfectly fitting (I’m only mentioning this with regard to the staging and surely do not want to nag about little imperfections in a life performance with really great singing from both).
    The background noise I now think could be rain, falling on the metal roof of the building, and that may have caused some irritation and slight intonation problems with the singers, but otherwise I don’t mind it so much, could even count as romantic.
    This scene also gives a puzzling insight into Ismene’s character, who comes in, sees the contact shredding and immediately runs to call for security and then stands by, being bored and checking her watch while Sifare and Aspasia are arrested. In contrast she bids Mitridate to have mercy on them in the following aria, how does that fit together? I guess she is supposed to be a manipulative, over-ambitious career bitch? However, this might work from a storyline point of view but the contrast to how this character is presented musically would be to strong in my opinion. Interesting, that you were also wondering about her, GrammarGeek, it’s really difficult to pinpoint her character here, I think.
    Further diaries, yes please!, and if this requires more cough meds, Anik, I will happily provide you with a prescription, no questions asked 🙂


    1. OOh, cough meds! 😉
      Let me get through my next two lectures and I’ll uncover another diary entry… I actually thought about Ismene’s POV, GrammarGeek, but she’s in too few scenes, with too little interaction, to carry a larger narrative there (I have not yet found a workable angle). But I will have to sneak in a few of her “I’m so done with this!” looks, too. I still don’t know what to make of her in the duet scene, either – perhaps just a try to play Mitridate and stage herself as a trustworthy ally (even as she is not pressured into oppressive contracts like Aspasia/Greece)? If she’s really supposed to be a Merkel allegory, then it’s probably a comment on pragmatic use of power while staging herself as ethical? Not sure…

      Farnace is another fun choice, but I still lack an idea for a story there. At the moment I’m torn between a Jane Bond/Noir plot for Sifare (I already joked with thadieu that I should finally make good of the sister plot there), or the secret notebook of Arbate’s committee work as he tries to find out why Aspasia is suddenly less interested in Mitridate – something ‘a la “The Hunt For Legato Game” where he has no idea who that could refer to (he probably hacked Aspasia’s phone and now cannot decode her texts).


    2. The Duet:
      I’ve thrown thoughts back and forth with GrammarGeek via email, and while I still have no definite stance, I think there are several factors that make the piece a bit lackluster here.

      1) the extratextual reference of Paris, where this duet is SO on point (in the blocking, which influences the singing. And in the staging, with influences the effect.) so everything else will likely fall short in comparison.

      2) the narrative framing in the staging: the characters are quickly at ease here, joking in defiance at shredding the contact: there simply is no gutting emotional height to get invested in. The characters are smirking at each other and the focus is not on them, but on the symbolic action of destroying the contract. My guess is that the directors build the scene around that symbolic action, and then had to fit the characters to it, as secondary. It might have been less jarring – the upbeat mood of the duet after the despair in the preceding accompagnato – if they had staged it as if destroying the paper being linked to fear, and nerves. Or if they had undertaken it more together than apart (e.g. nervously holding hands while throwing the papers into a trash bin and then lighting it on fire)! For me, it was making light of the character journeys they have established up to this point. The whole setting – with the cleaning cart – is more campy and puts us at a distance from the emotions of the scene.
      Something else – which also falls under the technical aspect of singing – is the blocking that places them far apart here and that is so at odds with the acting up to this point, where from the very beginning, you have Sifare attuned to Aspasia, usually angling his body towards her, or striving for some kind of closeness. There are a lot casual touches throughout Acts I and II, and this kind is silent comfort communication suddenly goes missing here. Look at the accompagnato right before the duet: Sifare crossing over to Aspasia, immediately making contact and hovering close

      hovering close

      (the hovering close seems to be an MP Sifare trademark evident in both recent productions – we’d have to compare with 09 from TADW, but I still need to figure out with whom to sleep for an in-house copy ;-)), and that suddenly stops. even before, when Mitridate is still tearing into them, Sifare hovers close to Aspasia and establishes contact – look at the hand detail!

      hand detail

      – Were there actually any character cues for the duet? It seemed to jump back and forth, without a clear line.

      3) Circumstances that simply made the singing harder and led to some misses:
      – the weather noise (you’re right, Agathe, it does sound like rain), and the shredder wasn’t exactly silent, either.
      – The distance between their bodies (in my experience, it’s easier to time breathing/tempi, especially for cadenzas/improv, if you can hear/feel your stage partner’s breathing pattern in some way), plus facing mostly outward.
      – The distraction through the extra action of the contract shredding: they constantly have to focus on the papers, and in particular Sifare has to get out papers one by one which looks like a bit of struggle. Either way, it draws attention and energy away from the singing, and their singing together.

      paper focus

      apart and surrounded by noise

      My conclusion, at this point: They simply had less energy to focus on each other, plus less depth granted by the staging, and stances that were pretty far apart without much chance at connecting, neither visually, nor physically.

      Now, it contrast to that, that Lungi da te… which kind of felt like a due here (but I will write a separate post for that)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wonderful insights, Anik, particularly about the idea of the contract shredding being the focus and fitting the characters into that idea. The same can be said for a lot of other scenes and interactions in this production, that the director wanted a specific plot point or framing device or something, regardless of whether it really matched the characters/libretto. Like, why is Mitridate a drug addict? It doesn’t really fit. But they wanted it in there, so there it is.

        I haven’t completely worked through my thoughts about this whole production yet, but I’ll say what I’ve been mulling over and see if anyone else has thoughts about it. Maybe it will help mine gel.

        This production lacks a lot of the emotional depth we saw in Paris. This duet, Sifare and Aspasia’s relationship, Farnace’s one-note sneering, etc. I think a huge portion of the blame for that is that the direction is coming from a place of unexamined sexism and heteronormativity. The two women are both presented as calculating, manipulative, stringing men along for their own goals, and backstabbing each other out of competitiveness for men’s approval (see the comment above re: Ismene ratting them out as some sort of power play).

        Of the men, Mitridate is the only character who is allowed to have any real depth, and even that is less than Paris. Spyres is missing some of his aggression (though I think that contributed to a much cleaner sound), but he is also presented to the audience as less of a “bad guy.” He is forgiven by this narrative more because the stakes aren’t as high.

        Contrast that with Paris (and, frankly, the original libretto, at least as far as Sifare is concerned). I don’t know that Paris was intentionally written with a feminist slant (or a queer slant), but it was definitely there, and it’s not here.

        Aside from the sexism, the specific cuts to the libretto, the faster pacing of some of the arias, and the perfunctory stage business made it difficult for the acting to make up for the lack of an emotional core to the production. MP does an amazing job as Sifare in Paris, and I attribute a lot of the depth she brought to this Sifare to the character work she had already done in the previous production.

        For example, let’s look at Lungi da te. In Paris, the lines leading up to the opening end in an absolutely heartbreaking “Aspasia, addio.” (My poor heart; I can’t even think about it!) The pace is a little slower for that and for the aria, and it is a PERFECT moment of grief. In Brussels, the whole scene is a faster pace. But look at what MP does with her face right before the farewell. She crams a lot of expressiveness into a very tight two seconds. And then she walks away. Those expressions were absolutely necessary to get Sifare to the emotional place that he needs to be in 30 seconds. But without MP actually doing it, there would be no reason for Sifare to come back. The blocking doesn’t call for it. Aspasia’s reactions up until then don’t call for it. It’s only MP bringing that internal thought process to the character that makes it work.

        After that comes The Look and The Decision and The Return to Aspasia’s side, and we (FINALLY) get the truly wonderful connection between the two of them. But that is the ONLY TIME we see that connection at that level in the whole piece. Because the director has positioned Aspasia as playing Sifare for her own ends, not as having real affection for him, for far too long, until it’s almost unbelievable that she’s actually falling for him by the Lungi.

        And then the rejection at the end of the aria. What is that? That’s not the way MP’s Sifare would respond. That’s the way a director who believes women are conniving creatures who use their sexuality to manipulate men would tell MP to make Sifare to respond. I still don’t have a complete grasp on the motivation we’re supposed to infer there, but maybe that’s because we AREN’T, and the director wasn’t focusing on that at all.

        Maybe it’s because the idea wasn’t “these characters have formed a profound connection but now they have to force themselves to sacrifice it.” Maybe the idea was just the far more mundane “Aspasia will finally be seduced and take off her shirt, but we have to end the aria and move on, and Sifare has to get off stage, so… I know, S will reject A, and bonus, that will keep him in a position of power in this relationship!” which is just so much less compelling, and confusing, because MP plays Sifare with actual, you know, PERSONALITY. Sifare LIKES Aspasia. He’s attuned to her (as Anik covers admirably in the screencaps above). He’s not interested in power games when it comes to her.

        I don’t think the director gets that about the character, or about their relationship. And that’s (partly) why they aren’t all that connected during the duet. Because it didn’t occur to the director that they SHOULD be.

        tl;dr this production was never focused on Sifare & Aspasia’s romance, and it leads to their scenes together feeling unnatural, like caricatures moving the story to the next plot point (like so many narratives written by straight white men, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

        Okay, I appear to have written an actual book about this now, and I’m still a very new participant here, so please, all, share your thoughts and let me know if you can see things I’m missing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. thanks for the book!
          Aside from what Anik and Agathe (Agathe, i keep almost calling you Aspasia every time now!) have helped deconstructing the first 2 arias, I’m still confused throughout.. (and have not had time to investigate thoroughly) hence my lack of contribution, unlike the the *very* thick multi-chapter books we wrote re. Paris analysis…

          yes Anik, i can’t sort out the “feeling” of the “play
          ful” attitude while shredding the contracts, unless they think it’s a joke and indeed the threat was not that real and they knew they weren’t going to be punished..

          ps- on my headset the “rain” during the duet Agathe mentioned sounds like a vacuum cleaner.. and i was thinking perhaps 1 of the singers forgot to switch off their microphone when not on-scene and standing next to something blowing offstage…

          In any case, i’m still stuck on the first 2 arias.. particularly MP’s acting during the “B” section of Aspasia’s opening aria, how (s)he moved the head and eyes (though we only get to see side-view) in response to Aspasia’s looong phrasing right after being grasped by the hand while sitting at the table… , that and being mesmerized by the swinging badge…


        2. Thank you for the novella. We heart novellas!

          I haven’t really thought about this production much yet in regards to sexism – perhaps because it works so much with parody types, too? I will have to keep ruminating on that because the staging of women in politics as genrally conniving does hit a problematic spot, and I my guess would be that it was not something that got a lot of focus (the directors – it’s two men – seem to be 30+, white and cisgender. From the self-presentation I would not immediately assume straightness, but assuming is something I try not to do).

          We talked before Brussels about how the politics setting was not going to put much focus on the romance, though in retrospect, it’s not that it doesn’t put focus on the romance, too, (It does) it’s more about HOW that happens (and falls short), which brings ups to the general staging approaches.

          Hervieu-Léger is an actor, with the certain slant of the Academie francaise. His staging starts developing from the emotionality of the characters – the very transformations *into* the chracters happens via emotional clues. I find his work, in the Paris production, to be exceptionally consistent in following character above action which makes it very rewarding to watch if you want to immerse yourself in the story.

          le lab simply come from an entirely different place of visual cueing and symbolic coding. Not to say they are better or worse, it is just a very different focus. Brussels started out as a performance wiht elements beyond the 4th wall, with installations in the foyers, with the video stagings, the screens, interacting with the city of Brussels and its political meaning – elements that do get lost quite a bit in the videostream – and there is an immense amount of work that has gone into the onstage cameras, the electric room panels (Agathe: I thought again about Aspasia’s tablet – with the attention given to the media elements here, it is entirely possible that it was an actual email. Or Sifare in/out of a tie! 😉 ), the titling of every folder, all the coding through flags. La Monnaie had a post up (on FB?) before the opening night about how the Pontus flag was designed to have certain meanings. Look at the materials of the hall, and particularly at the fabrics/color coding in every aspect – from badges to the folders to the placement name cards on the conference table (which are all names – the other delegates – from Antiquity, sorted by nation. I got a good laugh out of Hasdrubal for Spain!!). it is in between the EU blue of the suits to the EU flags on the document folders, to the ties — it is Sifare’s tie matching Mitridate’s pochette (and possibly even Ismene’s suit). It is Aspasia’s suit matching with Arbate’s tie: here comes the background player establishment. I think the narration is designed to happen over these clues, and not through character acting.
          That apart, I find that even in that symbolic level, there are quite a few glitches, but I can see that there was a conscious approach to it. Could it have been done without letting the characters fall more to the wayside? I believe so. Then again, it’s 6 weeks, and if the staging team is strongly focused on another aspect, time might be too scarce (or the interest in this kind of character development simply wasn’t part of the focus at all).

          I share GrammarGeek’s impression that a lot of the depth Sifare has here is linked to the very tight cueing work in Paris and Papatanasiu having had a chance at building a character approach for this role shortly before this production (apart from the fact that Papatanasiu generally goes the extra mile to make a character relatable).
          For “Lungi da te”, I stick with my opinion that the staging operated from a “you walk in here and out there, so what should be do with the meantime?” approach.
          I know it is a ton of work, for everyone involved, to build a scene NOT from the outcome, but to follow the emotions/reactions of the characters and have it arrive at the outcome organically. To say “You feel this way at this point, now. To what action/reaction does this lead? And then, what follows?”, and to do that so many times until the outcome is the one that’s in the libretto.
          That is very different from “Your emotion at the end is this. So let’s see how you got here.” Because the latter usually means connecting the dots in the shortest way, and not in the most organic way.

          The end of this “Lungi da te” (and I will put up a separate post for that at the earliest possibility) could work – even though the build-up, in this very (and, as GrammarGeek pointed out, the only) scene of connection between Sifare and Aspasia counteract it – if the father/son conflict would carry more weight (Spyres and Papatanasiu do a nice job around the pen just prior to this scene, but overall, Sifare here is not as conflicted about being in love with Aspasia, with Aspasia+Mitridate being more a political metaphor, and with the 2nd Sifare aria missing), we would perhaps get why Sifare steps back.
          If they both (A+S) simply got more time to arrive at a shared decision, it would make more sense. But here – and I did not see it as much in this light before GrammarGeek pointed it out – we do have Sifare saying no, then saying yes, then saying no again (and MP does a heck of a job trying to give it credibility). And then we have Aspasia trying to sway that “no” and failing, and no matter what the intentions/not-intentions of the directors were, it leaves us with a woman rejected and a guy calling the shots, even though he is actually even here still so much depicted through not buying into toxic masculinity (again, perhaps largely a Paris echo?).
          If you decide to cast aside the moral barrier of “we should not not do this” and start, in fact, “doing it”, how do you get back to “uhm, I reconsidered, sorry”, when your character core is “I am dedicated to you above all else”? I keep returning to “does not compute”. — To make this work, there really would have needed to be some more character focus in the blocking here, and more time given to the singers to work.
          Perhaps they tried to build up Aspasia as more vulnerable for the next scene? But then again, this is another case of “thinking in retrospect” and it is at the cost of Sifare’s character, who, as played here overall, would try to make sure that Aspasia is safe and not leave her exposed. (actually, is Arbate sitting to the side the whole time here? Is someone else walking by/seeing them? Not that I would trade in the zooms, but it would give some more insight into the staging).


          1. If the focus of this production was not on the development of characters and the staging-approach of scenes is often just about getting from A to B (and I think from the posts that many of us had that impression), isn’t it striking how much we still try to find meaning in the characters actions, expressions, ways of walking etc. in each moment, thinking about how things could have been done differently and so on? It’s just very nice to see how much we want this to work for us, to be able to see the characters and their actions in a way we can connect to.

            Your point that careful character building is a process that takes a lot of rehearsal time, the amount of which probably differs a lot between houses and productions, is something I had not thought about before, and it may be an explanation here, but as you say, while the attention to details in set and costumes is fun to watch, this should not be the priority at the cost of emotional depth.

            Lungi: I’m looking forward to your post on that, but a propos ‘getting from A to B’, the ‘walk’ over to the lounge chair was also something I did not find credible, it looked very rehearsed, and had to be of course with the lounge chair being quite a distance away and Aspasia walking backwards in heals, but it did not look spontaneous as would have been fitting for the scene. I was kind of glad they made it without stumbling.


            1. In that case, I think we know the continuation if Elsa indeed leaves with “Mitridate” and Sifare nurses a broken heart.



            2. Agathe, my first thought was “Dumaux can walk backwards on heels”

              When the scene cue shows (unintentionally), like “in bar 5, you need to be there”, then the directing could have been better.

              I’ve been thinking on and off about how invested we are, in this one and in the Paris production, how we connect to it and how the performances draw us in – I think it is a wonderful testimony of the artists’ abilities (including the big WAM), that even after they go home, we find something in their work that is a home for us: that they actually make an impact, have us discuss and reflect and joke and guess and wish. That’s what art should do, shouldn’t it? Enable communication and depth and joy, beyond mere beauty (as you can see I have started working on my Lungi post…).



            3. Dumaux in heels? I must have missed that, but after watching his Tolomeo I most readily believe he would be up to the challenge. Aspasia moves very well in her heels here but still, this looks like a dancing movement, not a spontaneous action (I think the chair is just too far away). Compare e.g. to the grasp in Paris which must have been well rehearsed but seemed absolutely spontaneous.


            4. …perhaps it did (other than for the light design) not matter where that moment happened? It only depended on the characters and energy of the moment and was not tied to specific set part.

              (Dumaux in heels was in the TADW “Poppea” last winter)


            5. Compare e.g. to the grasp in Paris which must have been well rehearsed but seemed absolutely spontaneous.

              I can see how that works: PP to MP: just walk past me with 1 arm out like about so [demonstrating], i’ll do the rest 😉


            6. *snort*

              “have one arm out” is also one of the few “cues sticking out” in the intro to the Paris “Lungi da te”, when Aspasia makes that sudden lunge for Sifare’s hand.

              Liked by 1 person

            7. yes, i immediately thought about that convo:
              more following:
              PP: and then while i’m in front…
              MP: no worries, i have it figured out!
              (punching arm in the air, jumping off, PP smiles, aria starts)


            8. ps- oh, sorry, i had in head the convo they had while reading libretto together *just* when Aspasia’s 1st aria’s music started…

              but yes, that in Lungi da te as well! (had to re-wire my brain.. the Lungi da te in Brussels can really side-track your mind..)


            9. Actually to get back to this point a bit:
              Compare e.g. to the grasp in Paris which must have been well rehearsed but seemed absolutely spontaneous.
              You might remember how I kept babbling about how good MP was in “reacting” and “receiving” what PP was doing, as a demonstration of how good she is as an actress (no need to repeat how spontaneous and good PP is). Perhaps related a bit to the badge that i just put a gif up: the badge “knows” how to react immediately to a body movement and so it simply looks very natural and not “rehearsed” (imagine if the badge has a mind of its own 😉 ). That’s how it felt for me between PP & MP in Paris, that there are cues, and then there are real-time reactions and as they both “feel” it via the physical connection they have (not all physical, but much better than brussels with the cleaning cart in between) and know “how” to return. I always have in head the vision of them standing and communicating via a pendulum, with each already knows upon receiving how fast the pendulum arrived and how much force and how precise timing should be to send it back without breaking the momentum. And with that they can generate resonance (in our brains!!)

              (The complete disaster would be to throw back the pendulum at the completely wrong time / with wrong force and it jumps around a little and comes to a complete halt, leaving both sides totally disconnected — I now have Carmen-Tancredi in head, for those who might have known this character/singer…)


            10. This reads like a sports metaphor, and perhaps that is not even that far off because being in a state of dialog and reacting to someone else also follows a logic determined by gravity/ange/speed, like those children’s tennis matches where you simply try to keep the ball going for as long as possible?
              I mentioned to thadieu yesterday on her “Badge Post” that I just had to reread Barba (for reasons not pertaining to this blog) and that this concept of reaction/reaction as a balance that follows a logic of gravity and equilibrum is actually very close to what barba tries to theorize in his search for universal constant factors of acting and stage presence: that stage energy is not just a mindset, but an elevated physical state that is achieved through working with balance, e.g. offsetting it and then reestablishing it. Not sure whether this can be applied to singers (Barba came from an angle of dancer/performers), though. But the idea of elevated pyhsical presence, yes.


            11. Thank you both, this is some interesting food for thought and I really like your pendulum metaphor, thadieu! This reminds me of a conversation here with regard to Paris a while ago, where you brought in martial arts and dancing and this came to my mind in relation to this as well, being about giving and receiving movement-energy from your partner with perfect timing, which would only be possible with a good ‘feel’ for your partners way of moving.


      2. Am slowly making my way past Lungi da te.. for example I now just realized Ismene has a nice aria right after!
        and have now made it through the duet 3x.. with the 3rd time not watching, and i realized it’s very rhythmically regular. The orchestra’s take is quite minimal throughout, there’s no sense of urgency even when they entered the fast section toward the end.. so aurally (w/o watching) it sounds a bit like they’re taking a stroll in the park, not desperate the way it sounds, *especially* with the orchestra (this is the entire post i wanted to write on E.Haïm’s conducting, may be i’ll write it after all!)


        1. Wasn’t the duet precisely what got singled out in quite a few reviews? Perhaps something was off on mic night (plus the weather, if it really was extra rain/vacuum cleaner/whatever) and not just the shredder) and it turned out more engaging during the rest of the run?

          (which does, of course, not take away “the stroll in the park” mood of the staging)


          1. I think without Paris I wouldn’t have known what to listen for and would also say this is a very nice duet! (I remember thinking the same with Auger and Gruberova.. until I recently went back and realized how “smooth” it was) . I really see it as you described (yours is the staging): there are possibilities you don’t even know exist until now, in this case EH’s take (and of course we give due credit to PP + MP, but i really think EH was a must for such a hearing experience)


  6. I’ve not gotten past re-watching the first 2 arias of the opera and would like to lodge a formal complaint regarding the camera angle in the reverse-grasp! (severe lack of slight-zoom-out + views of hands!!)


    1. that thought has crossed my mind, too! (it would clear up a few things about the timing of Aspsia’s reactions)


      1. i finally made it to “Hello, what’s with the Act One bravado?” (my fav caption!) and thought throughout this aria Aspasia’s look + facial expression can yield a lot of clue! starting out with how she pushed Sifare’s hand away to not pick up the contract on the ground to continuously looking his way to check his reaction just as MItridate started singing… clearly he was not making *any* eye contact.. may be this offers some clue re. their relation as things progress.. (not sure yet as am still confused and still working my way through..)

        But I wanted to drop off another point in case i forget: Sifare’s walking stride toward Aspasia to start this same aria, slow, fast, stop to turn around, all made sense in my head. And all Sifare’s walking up to this point in the opera has worked for me… and I mentioned it because I still have not figured out the walk just before Lungi da te (just after “Aspasia , addio”): to me it’s way too fast and yet not fast enough (or slow enough!) , and at first i thought perhaps MP is just walking because instruction told her to do so (walk from A to B). But she has shown that she can sort out the walk either on her own or making the story fits.. and so now i’m thinking she did this not-so-fast-or-slow walk but just slightly-fast-not-making-sense-in-my-head on purpose and I’m curious why (has been since the first time i saw). just tossing this out there in case someone has an idea..

        Oh, and before the walk to pick up contract, i finally caught the look that justifies the “acting like a jerk” bit!


        1. Oh, you made a night-shift, what a treat for my Sunday morning!
          Hand gesture before the duet scene, yes, also Aspasia throwing the contract to the floor still makes sense but the connection seems to break when Sifare walks over to the shredder. The technical difficulty of the shredding is a good point as well, even without having to sing in front of a large audience and being filmed shredding can be tricky…, then the distance, making the feeling for the duet partner’s phrasing and breathing much more difficult, in total it seems, while the conductor may be a ‘singer’s conductor’, the director does not seem to consider singing aspects very much. Now, this is a more general point and has of course been discussed in detail elsewhere, but for me, an opera director must love the music and respect it’s prominent position in this genre, even if this prevents some ‘smart’ staging ideas.
          The ‘just slightly fast walk’ of Sifare between ‘Aspasia Addio’ and the beginning of Lungi I would interpret as illustrating his internal conflict at this point. He has just decided to leave her, which seems the ‘right’ thing to do for the sake of ‘honour’, so the sensible thing would be to walk away quickly, not making it harder by lingering around. Still him being drawn to her and maybe the urge to explain and properly say goodbye slows his walk and makes him return to her side once again. And I agree that MP was doing this on purpose, she is indeed the one giving most scenes a meaning which may have not been intended or properly thought through by the director.


        2. oh yes, it’s “Someone just kicked my puppy… no, actually I *am* the puppy that just got kicked” (darn, I really need to hurry up with my “Lungi” post):

          there’s the “what??!!”/heartbreak/”What?!”…

          run that by me again

          but I just realized that even there, there is still the immediate reaction of trying to establish contact, I believe?
          As if to say “please say that it isn’t true” – (even if then, for the rest of the sequence, he mostly avoids looking at her, whch does not quite add up with this look, but I guess we can frame it as “with Mitridate’s additional info and the contract, he believes him over her”):

          puppy _ establishing contact

          To me, the jump here really is Aspasia, because as of this scene, she is played as deeply invested in Sifare (just take her continued attempts to make contact without reserve, pleading with him), and I still feel as if I have not seen the whole build-up to this point on her part.


  7. This was absolutely brilliant – reading the bit where Aspasia congratulates herself on singing so well that Sifare tried to kiss her made me choke on my tea, it was so funny! All the screencaps of her looking incredibly done were hilarious too. (Also, “Legato Game” is definitely the perfect name for Papatanasiu’s Sifare.) More of this, please!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Also, I feel I should qualify my novella up there by saying that if I hadn’t seen Paris first, I probably would have enjoyed Brussels a lot more. It’s quite clever, with lots of good singing! But, alas, I’m thoroughly spoiled. 🙂


    1. Paris again! I really must watch it, but it’s no longer streaming on Arte though it was last week…


    2. yes, I think that really influences us unfairly here, particularly for the duet.
      (we’ll ahve to see what Emily says when she comes back from watching the Paris version after Brussels – perhaps her impressions will be different?)


      1. Having now watched Paris, I can definitely see why Brussels comes off as somewhat lacklustre in comparison… Focusing on character drama rather than something else – politics, specifically, in this case – does make a huge difference.

        Regarding the investment Aspasia shows towards Sifare when Mitridate is denouncing her, I agree that there isn’t enough of a build-up to show how she got to that place. I think that that might be one of the reasons why Brussels feels less emotionally or dramatically compelling overall, actually – it’s difficult to be really invested in a relationship and what happens to it/the characters if the emotions don’t seem to run that deeply at all. Paris establishes a clear connection between A and S very early on with the easy affection they show each other in “Al destin” (though whether or not that is supposed to be the actors in the story rather than the characters said actors are portraying is a whole other can of worms), which provides the fuel for the drama which surrounds their relationship later. On the other hand, S+A’s first interaction in Brussels feels fairly pragmatic on A’s part and there isn’t any space to illustrate the change in her feelings towards S, so her scenes with him later end up feeling either disjointed or outright lacking. It doesn’t really help how “Lungi” ends up being a half-seduction – and I really did not think I would be complaining about this – so their relationship is cast in a sexual light, which would be fine except for the fact that the emotional aspect isn’t explored too much before and is not the focus in this scene either. Add to that how “Nel grave tormento” reads more as simple frustration than real torment (to me, anyway) and the playful shredding of the contract in the duet, and it seems fairly inevitable Brussels would have less of an impact.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. yes, yes,y es, and yes. And thank you for weighing in. (also, welcome to Paris)

          In our liveblog, i was put off for a moment to, thinking “Do they break it down to a simple affair now after not really staging a deeper romance?” I thought it ended up integrated through the singers’ acting, but it still makes the end of the scene difficult.


        2. Thanks for this review, Emily it’s very interesting to hear the views of someone who saw Brussels first because I think often we tend to engage most with our „first version“ of a particular opera. ‘Not enough built-up of Aspasias feeling’, yes, at the bottom line, I agree. In our discussions we did find out that there is a built-up to be found, with Aspasia being won over, probably at some point during ‘Soffre il mio’, but this does not become clear if you see the staging for the first time. This is in general something I have wondered about: As much as I love to dig deeper into a production, finding out new details on the way and discussing them, most people in the audience will see the performance only a single time, so only the first impression counts for them. In Paris, while there were lots of deeper aspects to be explored, the essence of the story became very clear at first sight and I consider this to be one of the great strengths of this production.


          1. Good point, Agathe, and it is perhaps also linked a bit to the “do I stage for the theatre room or for the camera” question because they both veer away from the traditional theatre performance – regarding zoom/gaze direction/repeatability. We do have to account for different opera experiences through the streams, and the question for me is also whether it is possibly to make a production (e.g. as Paris?) that works for both in-house live audiences and internet audiences or whether a micced stream is perhaps “hindering” a performance that on other nighs is given for a traditional in-house, one-time gaze at a distance.



      2. To clarify a little, it’s not that I think Brussels is devoid of emotion, but just that it’s either not effectively signposted at a suitably early stage and so comes off as being a bit of a sudden reveal (for S+A) or just never explores the full emotional range at certain points. For example, if you compare the two renditions of “Pallid’ombre”, LR’s Aspasia is certainly distraught, but PP’s goes much further than that – she’s in complete despair, really embodying the morbidity of the libretto. Of course, this is in no small part thanks to PP’s fantastic performance, but it’s also because the directorial choices throughout made it possible. When watching Brussels, I never thought it possible that Aspasia would actually try to commit suicide, because she didn’t seem to care to such a great extent.


  9. P.S. Also yes please to more insights into Arbate’s work at the committee, I begin to like his understated, funny acting more and more.


    1. And he does a lot of the lifting, and has to do a lot with silent background work – I like Saelens’ stage presence here. And it should make for a fun “My name is Arbate, and I am trying to run this kindergarten, please hand me some aspirin” post.


  10. Based on Anik’s reference to Hervieu-Léger being an actor and that informing his direction, does anyone have recommendations for other productions he’s directed (particularly in conjunction w/Haim conducting)?


    1. Nothing else with Haim; but he did “La Didone” with Christie, which also toured, so there might be something on mezzo or YT?
      His French Wiki has a longer listing of producitons he was involved in (most as a actor), so youtubing from there should be a good starting place.

      (God, I also could have done without the knowledge that he is my age. Just shoot me now. I’m still adjusting to the fact that the artists who impress me are not older any longer, but within my own age range, with kids as old as my own kids. It’s quite a change of register, but it’s probably nothing compared to the prospect of turning into an opera cougar, which will inevitably happen to me some 15 or 20 years down the road. (I should probably stop blogging then))


  11. oh this is good. so funny. “I did not come here to end up with the countertenor. Just so we are clear on that.” may be my favorite line.


    1. It really does have its moments! And since it is not as heavy or as immersive as Paris, it’s a good antidote to the newsfeed, if one wishes to disappear for an evening.



        1. Thanks for the warning, will wait until reaching WiFi later. Overall, I have been thinking since this past weekend’s Traviata on immersion-to/as-analysis approaches (MP) vs. from-analysis-towards-immersion/embodiment approaches (PP). Fascinating stuff, from a theoretical angle.


          Liked by 1 person

        2. At least there is wifi in my meeting hall…

          Your gif is a great example of having gestures not be empty: the first movement is not visibly anticipating the counter reaction (the interception/blocking), and the reaction off the counter movement also transports as actual reaction, not as a pre-rehearsed pattern. Really clean work.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s