|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart KV1 621|
La clemenza di TitoOpera 1791.Opera seria.
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La clemenza di Tito (English: The Clemency of Titus), K. 621, is an opera seria in two acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to an Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, after Metastasio. It was started after the bulk of The Magic Flute, the last opera that Mozart worked on, was already written (Mozart completed The Magic Flute after the Prague premiere of Tito on 6 September 1791).
In July 1791, the last year of his life, Mozart was already well advanced in writing The Magic Flute when he was asked to compose an opera seria. The commission came from the impresario Domenico Guardasoni, who lived in Prague and who had been charged by the Estate of Bohemia with providing a new work to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor as King of Bohemia. The ceremony was to take place on September 6; Guardasoni had been approached about the opera in June. There was not much room to manoeuvre.
In a contract dated July 8, Guardasoni promised that he would engage a castrato "of leading quality" (this seems to have mattered more than who wrote the opera); that he would "have the libretto caused to be written...and to be set to music by a distinguished maestro". The time was tight and Guardasoni had a get-out clause: if he failed to secure a new text, he would resort to La clemenza di Tito, a libretto written more than half a century earlier by Pietro Metastasio (1698–1782).
Metastasio's libretto had already been set by nearly 40 composers; the story is based on the life of Roman Emperor Titus, from some brief hints in The Lives of the Caesars by the Roman writer Suetonius, and was elaborated by Metastasio in 1734 for the Italian composer Antonio Caldara. Among later settings were Gluck's in 1752 and Josef Mysliveček's version in 1774; there would be three further settings after 1791. Mozart was not Guardasoni's first choice. Instead, he approached Antonio Salieri, the most distinguished composer of Italian opera in Vienna and head of the music establishment at the imperial court. But Salieri was too busy, and he declined the commission, although he did attend the coronation.
The libretto was edited into a more useful state by the court poet Caterino Mazzolà, whom, unusually, Mozart credited for his revision in his own catalogue of his compositions. Guardasoni's experience of Mozart's work on Don Giovanni convinced him that the younger composer was more than capable of working on the tightest deadline. Mozart had no hesitation in accepting Guardasoni's offer – how could he resist when Guardasoni offered him twice the fee he was used to receiving for an opera in Vienna? Mozart's earliest biographer Niemetschek alleged that the opera was completed in just 18 days, and in such haste that the secco recitatives were supplied by another composer, probably Süssmayr, believed to have been Mozart's pupil. However, some Mozart scholars suggest that Mozart had been working on the opera much longer, perhaps since 1789. In a visit to Dresden in that year he could have started a collaboration with Mazzolà, who had been working there as a court poet. It almost certainly appears that some of the music of La clemenza di Tito had been written by April 1791, because in that month at her concert Josefina Dušková performed a Mozart Rondo with a basset-horn. This work by Mozart has not been identified other than as Vitellia’s rondo Non più di fiori in Act 2. The claim that Mozart wrote La clemenza di Tito in 18 days is thus doubtful.
It is not known what Leopold thought of the opera written in his honor. Reports that his wife Maria Louisa dismissed it as porcheria tedesca, or "German swinishness," do not pre-date 1871, in a collection of literary vignettes by Alfred Meissner about the history of Prague purportedly based on recollections of the author's grandfather, who was present for the coronation ceremonies.
The premiere took place a few hours after Leopold's coronation. The role of Sesto was taken by castrato soprano, Domenico Bedini. The opera was first performed publicly on 6 September 1791 at the Estates Theatre in Prague.
The opera remained popular for many years after Mozart's death. It was the first Mozart opera to reach London, receiving its première there at His Majesty's Theatre on 27 March 1806. The first performance at La Scala in Milan was on 26 December 1818. The North American premiere was staged on 4 August 1952 at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. But for a long time, Mozart scholars regarded Tito as an inferior effort of the composer. Alfred Einstein in 1945 wrote that it was "customary to speak disparagingly of La clemenza di Tito and to dismiss it as the product of haste and fatigue," and he continues the disparagement to some extent by condemning the characters as puppets – e.g., "Tito is nothing but a mere puppet representing magnanimity" – and claiming that the opera seria was already a moribund form. However, in recent years the opera has undergone something of a reappraisal. Stanley Sadie considers it to show Mozart "responding with music of restraint, nobility and warmth to a new kind of stimulus".
The opera continues to be popular: Operabase lists 74 performances of 19 productions in 16 different cities for 2009 and 2010.
The opera is scored for:
Vitellia, daughter of deposed emperor Vitellio, wants revenge against Tito and stirs up Tito's vacillating friend Sesto, who is in love with her, to act against him (duet Come ti piace, imponi). But when she hears word that Tito has sent Berenice of Cilicia, of whom she was jealous, back to Jerusalem, Vitellia tells Sesto to delay carrying out her wishes, hoping Tito will choose her (Vitellia) as his empress (aria Deh, se piacer mi vuoi).
Tito, however, decides to choose Sesto's sister Servilia to be his empress, and orders Annio (Sesto's friend) to bear the message to Servilia (aria Del più sublime soglio). Since Annio and Servilia, unbeknownst to Tito, are in love, this news is very unwelcome to both (duet Ah, perdona al primo affetto). Servilia decides to tell Tito the truth but also says that if Tito still insists on marrying her, she will obey. Tito thanks the gods for Servilia's truthfulness and immediately forswears the idea of coming between her and Annio (aria Ah, se fosse intorno al trono).
In the meantime, however, Vitellia has heard the news about Tito's interest in Servilia and is again boiling with jealousy. She urges Sesto to assassinate Tito. He agrees, singing one of the opera's most famous arias (Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio with basset clarinet obbligato). Almost as soon as he leaves, Annio and the guard Publio arrive to escort Vitellia to Tito, who has now chosen her as his empress. She is torn with feelings of guilt and worry over what she has sent Sesto to do.
Sesto, meanwhile, is at the Capitol wrestling with his conscience (recitativo Oh Dei, che smania è questa), as he and his accomplices go about to burn it down. The other characters (except Tito) enter severally and react with horror to the burning Capitol. Sesto reenters and announces that he saw Tito slain, but Vitellia stops him from incriminating himself as the assassin. The others lament Tito in a slow, mournful conclusion to Act 1.
Begins with Annio telling Sesto that Emperor Tito is in fact alive and has just been seen; in the smoke and chaos, Sesto mistook another for Tito. Sesto wants to leave Rome, but Annio persuades him not to (aria Torna di Tito a lato). Soon Publio arrives to arrest Sesto, bearing the news that it was one of Sesto's co-conspirators who dressed himself in Tito's robes and was stabbed, though not mortally, by Sesto. The Senate tries Sesto as Tito waits impatiently, sure that his friend will be exonerated; Publio expresses his doubts (aria Tardi s'avvede d'un tradimento) and leaves for the Senate. Annio begs Tito to show clemency towards his friend (aria Tu fosti tradito). Publio returns and accounces that Sesto has been found guilty and an anguished Tito must sign Sesto's death sentence.
He decides to send for Sesto first, attempting to obtain further details about the plot. Sesto takes all the guilt on himself and says he deserves death (rondo Deh, per questo istante solo), so Tito tells him he shall have it and sends him away. But after an extended internal struggle, Tito tears up the execution warrant for Sesto and determines that, if the world wishes to accuse him (Tito) of anything, it can charge him with showing too much mercy rather than with having a vengeful heart (aria Se all'impero).
Vitellia at this time is torn by guilt, but Servilia warns her that tears alone will not save Sesto (aria S'altro che lagrime). Vitellia finally decides to confess all to Tito, giving up her hopes of empire (rondo Non più di fiori with basset horn obbligato). In the amphitheatre, the condemned (including Sesto) are waiting to be thrown to the wild beasts. Tito is about to show mercy when Vitellia offers her confession as the instigator of Sesto's plot. Though shocked, the emperor includes her in the general clemency he offers (recitativo accompagnato Ma che giorno e mai questo?). The opera concludes with all the subjects praising the extreme generosity of Tito, while he himself asks that the gods cut short his days when he ceases to care for the good of Rome.
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