A preview of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” by The Met Opera: Live in HD at the USCB Center for the Arts, Saturday, Dec. 1, 12:55 p.m.
By Alan Schuster
Four months before his death in December, 1791, Mozart was in poor health and busy finishing both his “Magic Flute” and starting his Requiem. Nevertheless, he accepted a commission to write an opera for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II of Bohemia — one month later. Mozart cleverly simplified the process by composing all the music while allowing a young composer, Franz Sussmayr, to link the flow of the plot by writing the recitative (spoken or accompanied dialogue). Even under such time constraints, it’s astonishing that it contains so much beautiful music. It became “La Clemenza di Tito.”
The cast: Tito, Emperor of Rome;Vitellia, daughter of the deposed Emperor; Sesto, a friend of Tito; Annio, a friend of Sesto; Servilia, sister of Sesto; and Publio, Praetorian commander.
Act I: Vitellia, furious at not being considered by Tito to be his empress, urges Sesto, her admirer, to join her conspiracy to kill Tito. After Sesto hesitantly agrees and departs, she learns that Tito is now undecided, raising her hopes.
Annio asks Sesto for the hand of his sister, Servilia, in marriage. Sesto agrees, only to discover soon after that Tito has made his decision. It’s Servilia! When Annio learns this, sadly he tells Servilia that she is to become the empress.
Servilia tells Tito that she loves Annio, prompting him not to stand between them. Now Tito announces that he plans to marry — Vitellia! Unaware of this, she sends Sesto off to burn the Capitol and kill Tito. With Sesto gone, the news finally reaches her, but too late to stop him. Vitellia’s emotions conflict, knowing she could become empress, even as Sesto is out to kill him. Sesto succeeds in torching the Capitol, leading many to believe that Tito is dead. The act ends in general confusion.
Act II: It is now known that Tito has escaped death, and about the plot to kill him. Sesto decides to plead guilty, causing Vitellia’s concern that her role might be revealed. After Publio arrests Sesto, the Senate meets and condemns him to death. Tito signs the death warrant, but when alone, reconsiders and tears it up.
As Sesto and his conspirators are about to be thrown to the lions, Vitellia cannot bear her guilt and confesses to Tito. Fortunately for all, it ends well, thanks to ‘la clemenza di Tito.’
“Mozart writes music in which all the notes must be heard.” — Composer Gabriel Faure
“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them.” — Mozart
Annio, Sesto: “Deh prendi un dolce amplesso…” (I embrace you, my friend…). This duet, expressing warm friendship, quickly became a popular tune beyond the opera world. And it’s only 24 bars long, lasting less than a minute!
Annio, Servilia: “Ah perdona al primo affetto…” (Ah, forgive me, my former love…). Charles Osborne called it “one of Mozart’s most perfect pieces.” Beethoven composed a fantasia celebrating it. And Shelley, inspired by the melody, wrote: “I arise from dreams of thee.”
Sesto: “Parto, ma tu ben mio…” (I leave, my dearest…). It’s a fine virtuoso aria and a real test for a mezzo-soprano. What helps make it so impressive is a fine clarinet accompaniment.
Vitellia: “Vengo…aspettate…Sesto!” (I’m coming…wait…Sesto!). This is perhaps the finest dramatic piece in the score as Vitellia is too late to stop Sesto from carrying out her order to kill Tito.
Sesto: “Deh conservate, o Dio…” (Oh, ye gods, preserve the glory of Rome — on my shame). When word circulates that Tito might be dead, everyone reacts in horror. The act concludes with an impressive sextet, ending in hushed voices, and complemented by distant cries of lament from the chorus.
Sesto: “Quello di Tito il volto…” (Is that the face of Tito?) – Tito confronts Sesto, seeking reasons for his betrayal, for which Sesto accepts all blame. A beautiful and expressive piece.
Vitellia: “Non piu di fiori…” (No more flowers….). Few if any composers can match what Mozart has accomplished in this unique ‘duet.’ As Vitellia languishes about her hopeless dream of becoming empress, she is accompanied — with Mozartian harmony — by a rarely-heard basset horn.
Sesto: “Tu, e ver, m’assolvi…” (It’s true, forgive me…). It’s a good vigorous sextet finale with the “populace” rolling out platitudes for “la clemenza di Tito.”
“Beethoven I take twice a week, Haydn four times, and Mozart every day!” — Composer Gioachino Rossini.
The performers: I’m not familiar with three singers — Giuseppe Filianoti (Tito), Lucy Crow (Servilia) and Oren Gradus (Publio), but I can speak with enthusiasm about the three female singers who round out the cast. Two of them, Elina Garanca (of “Carmen” fame) and Kate Lindsey, are young mezzo-sopranos who will sing ‘trouser roles’ as Sesto and Annio. Words can’t match what you’ll see and hear, so just Google “Garanca-Mozart-La Clemenza” and you’ll know why. As for Kate Lindsey, the Washington Post wrote that “she has a voice that is rich and rarified, a dark-colored ribbon of sound.” And the one soprano who will be acting like a “lady” will be Met favorite Barbara Frittoli, vocally gifted to deliver a wide range of emotionally-challenged moments as Vitellia.
“Mozart should have written Faust.” Charles Gounod, Composer of Faust
Tickets: Adults $20; OLLI members $16; Students under 18, $10. All seats are assigned and the box office opens at USCB Center for the Arts one hour prior to the 12:55 p.m. curtain time, or call 521-4145.