Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: La Clemenza di Tito
The Met: Live in HD Transmission of Saturday, December 1, 2012, 12:55 P.M.
La Clemenza di Tito at the Met in 2008, with Susan Graham (Sesto), Oren Gradus (Publio), Ramón Vargas (Tito), Anke Vondung (Annio) and Tamar Iveri (Vitellia)
© Johan Elbers 2012
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La Clemenza di Tito
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Caterino Mazzolà
THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Vitellia soprano, BARBARA FRITTOLI
Sesto mezzo, ELINA GARANČA
Annio mezzo, KATE LINDSEY
Tito tenor, GIUSEPPE FILIANOTI
Servilia soprano, LUCY CROWE
Publio baritone, OREN GRADUS
Conducted by HARRY BICKET
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Production: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Set and costume designer:
Lighting designer: Gil Wechsler
Stage director: Peter McClintock
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Donna Racik,
Gareth Morrell, Dan Saunders,
|Assistant stage director: Paula Williams
Harpsichord continuo: Bradley Brookshire
Prompter: Donna Racik
Italian coach: Hemdi Kfir
Production a gift of the Lila Acheson and
DeWitt Wallace Fund, established by
the founders of The Reader's Digest
Directed for Live Cinema by
Host: Susan Graham
This performance will be transmitted live, in high definition and surround sound, into selected
movie theaters, and will be shared with students in more than 100 U.S. schools as part
Although some of its music may be revisions of earlier work, it is generally believed that Mozart composed nearly all of La Clemenza di Tito in Vienna during the last summer of his life, in 1791. On September 6 of that year, Clemenza had its world premiere at the National Theatre in Prague as part of the celebrations marking the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. Later in the month, on September 30, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte had its premiere in Vienna — the city where the thirty-five-year-old composer died, on December 5.
Music from La Clemenza di Tito had been heard in Metropolitan Opera concerts as early as 1900 — Vitellia's "Non più di fiori" was a favorite of such golden-age divas as Olive Fremstad and Ernestine Schumann-Heink — but the opera did not receive its first full performance at the Met until October 18, 1984, when Clemenza arrived in a production designed and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. James Levine, who had previously collaborated with Ponnelle on Clemenza in Salzburg, paced the Met's first Clemenza cast, headed by Kenneth Riegel (Tito), Renata Scotto (Vitellia), Gail Robinson (Servilia) and Ann Murray, who made her company debut as Sesto in place of an indisposed Tatiana Troyanos. Troyanos (1938–93), who was to become the singer the Met public most closely associated with Clemenza, eventually sang twenty-two performances for the company of Sesto, a role that was so indelibly hers that music from the opera was chosen by Levine to open the Met's 1994 concert in Troyanos's memory.
ACT I. Vitellia, daughter of the deposed emperor Vitellius, wants the current ruler, Tito (Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus), assassinated, because he does not return her love and has chosen as consort Berenice, daughter of the King of Judaea. Vitellia turns her wiles on her admirer Sesto, who is reluctant to commit treason for her sake ("Come ti piace, imponi"). Annio, summoning Sesto to an audience with the emperor, reveals that Berenice will not be consort after all. Vitellia's ambitions for the throne revive, and she asks Sesto to put off the assassination plan ("Deh, se piacer mi vuoi"). Annio, who wants to marry Sesto's sister Servilia, urges his friend to request Tito's permission, and the two men reaffirm their friendship ("Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso").
Before the Capitol, the populace hails Tito, who declares he will help the survivors of the recent eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii. Annio and Sesto learn that the emperor wishes to marry Servilia. Diplomatically, Annio assures Tito that he welcomes the union. The emperor says the chief joy of power is in the opportunity to help others ("Del più sublime soglio"). When Annio tells Servilia the emperor wishes to marry her, however, she reaffirms her love for Annio, and he admits he returns it ("Ah, perdona al primo affetto").
In the imperial palace, Publio, a guard, shows Tito a list of those who have spoken disloyally. Tito is inclined to forgive the offenders. They are interrupted by Servilia, who confesses her prior commitment to Annio. Tito generously relinquishes her ("Ah, se fossi intorno al trono") and leaves, followed by Servilia. The angry Vitellia urges Sesto to strike. Declaring that her wish is his command, he departs ("Parto, ma tu ben mio"). Vitellia, learning that Tito is looking for her, calls after Sesto to stop him, but it is too late.
In front of the Capitol, Sesto, who has set fire to the building, trembles with remorse. Annio, Publio and Vitellia appear, voicing anxiety and confusion (trio: "Vengo! aspettate!"). Believing he has killed the emperor, Sesto starts to confess (finale: "Deh, conservate, oh Dei!") but is silenced by Vitellia.
ACT II. In the palace, Annio tells Sesto the emperor has escaped harm. When Sesto confesses, Annio advises that telling Tito the truth will earn him forgiveness ("Torna di Tito al lato"). Vitellia rushes in, telling Sesto to flee for both their sakes, before Publio enters and demands Sesto's sword; the man Sesto struck in the flaming Capitol was not Tito but a fellow conspirator, Lentulo, who survived. Sesto is led off to the senate after a reproachful farewell to Vitellia (trio: "Se a volto mai ti senti").
In a public hall, the people are relieved to know Tito is safe. When the emperor doubts his friend Sesto's disloyalty, Publio cautions against too much benevolence ("Tardi s'avvede d'un tradimento"). Annio pleads on behalf of Sesto, who has confessed and been sentenced, with other conspirators, to be thrown to the beasts in the Colosseum. Annio agrees that Sesto must be punished but asks Tito to be compassionate ("Tu fosti tradito"). The emperor declines to sign the death decree until he has questioned Sesto, who is brought in. Alone with Tito, Sesto says he himself had no designs on the throne, but he hesitates to implicate Vitellia ("Deh, per questo istante solo"). Tito, dissatisfied with the partial explanation, orders Sesto led to execution. In private, Tito agonizes over his decision, then tells Publio he will announce Sesto's fate at the arena. Addressing the gods, he says that if they want a stern ruler, they should take away his human heart ("Se all'impero, amici Dei!"). He leaves, and Vitellia enters, convinced Sesto has named her in the conspiracy. Servilia and Annio beg Vitellia to save Sesto by consenting to be Tito's empress. Vitellia realizes Sesto has not betrayed her but decides she must die rather than accept the throne at the price of Sesto's life ("Non più di fiori").
At the arena, Tito's final meeting with Sesto is interrupted by Vitellia, who declares her guilt. The betrayed ruler almost hardens his heart before deciding to pardon the conspirators, valuing their repentance more than their fidelity (finale: "Tu, è ver, m'assolvi, Augusto?").
During the summer of his last year, 1791, Mozart had been working on Die Zauberflöte when a servant of one Count Walsegg-Stuppach delivered a commission for a Requiem, which the composer took as an ill omen. Then, in early July, Mozart learned that a new opera was needed for a state occasion in Prague in September. The choice of an old-fashioned opera seria was appropriate, with text by the master of the genre, Pietro Metastasio, whose libretto dated back to 1734, in the heyday of opera seria. From a monarchist's point of view, Clemenza's central theme, the praise of an enlightened ruler, did not show its age. Its literary form, however, did seem old-fashioned to Mozart, who called in the Dresden court poet, Caterino Mazzolà, to recast it. Mazzolà deleted some fifteen arias and added four of his own. In keeping with the composer's ideas, he also incorporated duets, trios, choruses and finales.
The premiere, on September 6, 1791, at the National Theater in Prague, celebrated the coronation of Leopold II, brother of the late Josef II, as King of Bohemia. The court did not take to La Clemenza di Tito, but the general public was enthusiastic. Until about 1830, it was one of Mozart's most frequently performed operas; it subsequently fell in popularity.
Following World War II, La Clemenza di Tito began its return to its rightful place among Mozart's major operas. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and James Levine introduced their production of the neglected masterpiece to the Met's repertory on October 18, 1984.
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
The best of the currently available Titos on CD is Nikolaus Harnoncourt's intelligent, impressively dramatic performance (Teldec), which gathers Zurich Opera forces, together with Philip Langridge (Tito), Ann Murray (Sesto), Barbara Bonney (Servilia) and Lucia Popp, as a gripping, seductive Vitellia in what was to be the last recording of her distinguished career. Nearly twenty years earlier, Popp was the fresh-voiced Servilia on Colin Davis's starry Tito (Philips) - for many years the only major-label version available - with Janet Baker (Vitellia), Yvonne Minton (Sesto) and Frederica von Stade (Annio). Anne Sofie von Otter is Sesto in John Eliot Gardiner's period-instrument performance (Archiv); Gardiner's deft colleagues include Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tito), Julia Varady (Vitellia) and Sylvia McNair (Servilia). Christopher Hogwood's somewhat pallid Tito (L'Oiseau Lyre) features Cecilia Bartoli's gentlemanly Sesto, Della Jones's ferocious Vitellia and the complete Tito recitatives composed by Mozart's pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
The Met's current La Clemenza di Tito production was directed and designed for the company in 1984 by the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, whose staging had evolved from his own earlier European productions of the opera. A 1980 TV film based on the Ponnelle staging (DG DVD) was shot on location at the Baths of Caracalla, Rome's Arch of Titus and the Villa Adriana, with James Levine conducting several artists who had appeared in Ponnelle's 1976 Salzburg Tito, among them Eric Tappy, Tatiana Troyanos and Catherine Malfitano. (Caveat emptor: the post-synchronization in this Tito film is scarcely gold-standard.) The emotional and dramatic center of Nicholas Hytner's 1991 production (Image DVD), recorded live at Glyndebourne and conducted by Andrew Davis, is Langridge's masterfully detailed performance as the emperor. Jonas Kaufmann is a sympatheic Tito in Jonathan Miller’s production at Zurich Opera, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst (EMI); Susan Graham and Christoph Prégardien head the cast in a Paris Opera staging by Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann (OpusArte).
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