By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this will be available at www.metopera.org
Monday, June 8
Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito ~ 2 HRS 35 MIN
Conducted by Harry Bicket, starring Lucy Crowe, Barbara Frittoli, Elīna Garanča, Kate Lindsey, and Giuseppe Filianoti. Transmitted live on December 1, 2012.
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s beautiful production of Mozart’s next to last opera, which premiered in September of 1791, just 3 months before Mozart’s death, brings ancient Rome to life with a complex story of love, betrayal, revenge, terror, and attempted murder – but all with a happy ending! This is a wonderful opera that is performed too infrequently – probably because it requires two talented mezzos in trouser roles (or countertenors these days), two talented sopranos and an equally talented tenor. Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti is the Emperor Tito who is searching for a bride. The eligible young women of his court include Servilia (young, British soprano Lucy Crowe) who is an attractive prospect, but she is secretly in love with Annio (mezzo Kate Lindsey – who was the amazing Nerone in Agrippina and the wonderful Muse, Nicklausse in Hoffman). Vitellia (Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli), daughter of the deposed emperor, is also a possibility, but when she is not the first one chosen, she is determined to seek revenge on Tito. She ensnares her completely besotted lover Sesto (versatile mezzo Elīna Garanča – we’ve seen her in another trouser role as the Rosenkavalier, as a sultry Carmen and as the beautiful Sarah in Roberto Devereux) in her evil plot. The talented early music specialist Harry Bicket conducts.
The action takes place in Rome around AD80. The newly enthroned emperor Tito (Titus), son of Vespasian, plans to marry the Judean princess Berenice (who plays no part at all in the opera except that we see her boat leaving for home as the first act opens). Tito is being strongly pressured at court to marry a Roman and so has reluctantly given up Berenice. This provides fresh hope to Vitellia, daughter of the deposed former emperor, Vitellius. She has long had her eye on the crown. Vitellia, with whom Tito’s good friend Sesto happens to be blindly and hopelessly in love “Come ti piace imponi:/Regola i moti miei.” (Command me as you will;/order my every move./You are my destiny;/I will do anything for you.) has nothing good for him to do in her scheming mind.
Her queenly ambitions are dashed however, when Tito initially fixes instead on Servilia, the sister of his close friend Sesto. Tito sends Sesto’s friend Annio to tell Servilia that she has been chosen as Empress. Since Annio and Servilia are in love, however, this is not welcome news “Ah perdona al primo affetto/Questo accento sconsigliato;” (Ah, forgive, my former love,/that thoughtless word;) but they finally decide to tell Tito the truth. Tito surprises everyone by thanking Servilia for her courage and truthfulness and then allowing the lovers to stay together.
In the meantime, however, Vitellia has heard only that Tito has chosen Servilia and sets Sesto on a course to murder Tito. The horribly conflicted Sesto, afraid of losing Vitellia, accedes to the plan, singing one of the opera’s most famous arias “Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio” ( I go, but, my dearest,/make peace again with me./I will be what you would most have me be, do whatever you wish.) Almost as soon as he leaves to carry out her wishes, 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. Although Sesto succeeds in burning the Capitol and believes he has killed Tito, in fact he has not.
In Act II, after having escaped the assassination attempt, Tito is again ready to fall back on making Vitellia his queen. Sesto, completely overcome with remorse and wanting to give himself up, confesses the failed plot to Annio who tells him that Tito is still alive and well. Annio begs Sesto to go to Tito and confess, “Torna di Tito a lato;/Torna, e l’error passato” (Return to Titus’s side;/return and make amends/for past error
with repeated proofs of loyalty.)
Vitellia, however, fearing Sesto will implicate her in the plot, persuades him not to surrender himself. Unfortunately, his role in the assassination attempt has already been uncovered, and he is arrested and found guilty by the Senate. Tito is unable to accept his loyal friend Sesto’s guilt and confronts him in an incredibly moving scene. He is profoundly distressed by Sesto’s confession that he alone was responsible “Deh, per questo istante solo” (Ah, for this single moment/remember our former love,/for your anger, your severity,/make me die of grief), and vacillates between sending him to his death and clemency “Se all’impero.” (If a hard heart is necessary to a ruler,/ye benevolent gods,/either take the empire from me/or give me another heart.)
Meanwhile, Servilia helps Vitellia find her humanity when she realizes Sesto is prepared to go to his death for her, “S’altro che lacrime/Per lui non tenti,/Tutto il tuo piangere/Non giovera.” (If you do nothing for him/but shed tears,/all your weeping will be of no avail.) Vitellia makes a public confession, thus relinquishing her chance of the throne and power “Ecco il punto, o Vitellia..” (Now is the moment, O Vitellia..). In an extraordinary act of clemency, Tito forgives all involved in the plot and asks the Gods to cut short his own life should he ever cease to care about his subjects, “Troncate, eterni Dei,/Troncate i giorni miei,/Quel di che il ben di Roma/Mia cura non sara.” (Cut short, eternal gods, cut short my days/on that day when the good of Rome/ceases to be my care).
1. Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia and Elīna Garanča as Sesto in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
2. Lucy Crowe as Servilia and Kate Lindsey as Annio in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
3. Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
4. Elīna Garanča as Sesto in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
5. Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
6. Elīna Garanča as Sesto, Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito, and Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.