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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Clemenza di Tito

Mozart's drama of intrigue and attempted assassination in Ancient Rome.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Matthew Polenzani (seen here in the title role of Mozart's Idomeneo)
sings the title role in La Clemenza di Tito at the Metropolitan Opera this season.
Photo © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
A stellar cast (Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani, Elza van den Heever) takes the stage in this late season revival of Mozart's opera seria of passion and power politics.

What is La Clemenza di Tito
It's funny how necessity can make an artist productive. That was the case in 1791, the last year of Mozart's life. In July, the composer (already hard at work on a new piece called Die Zauberflöte) received a commission to write a new opera celebrating the impending coronation of Leopold II.  The result, banged out in just 18 days was La clemenza di Tito.

What's the story?
In the reign of the Roman Emperor Titus, the noblewoman Vitellia leads a plot against his reign. Her chosen assassin is Sesto, a nobleman whose sister Servilia is the Emperor's love interest. This all comes to a head at the end of the first act, when the Capitol burns and Tito is reported dead. In the second act, Sesto is imprisoned, and the conspirators are going to be thrown to wild beasts in the Emperor's newly built Colosseum. Vitellia confesses and the Emperor, true to the opera's title, forgives all.

How's the music?
Given the tight deadline of the coronation, Mozart only had time to write the opera's arias. He added  choruses and ensembles as needed, with the new text written by librettist Caterino Mazzolà. The opera has a rousing overture, memorable arias (particularly Sesto's "Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio" and Vitallia's burn-the-house-down rondo "Non più di fiori") and some of Mozart's most sophisticated writing for ensemble voice, including the fiery Act I finale.

OK. Tell me something else cool!
Mozart wrote this opera in just 18 days. However the recitatives (the bits between the arias and choruses) are the work of his student Franz Xavier Süssmayer, who is also credited with completing the last sections of the Mozart Requiem.

How's the production?
This is a sturdy Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production from 1984, the same one that the Met revives every few years.

Who's in it?
Elza van den Heever and Joyce DiDonato, who opened the Met's production of Maria Stuarda in 2012, return here as Vitellia and Sesto. Matthew Polenzani is Tito, continuing his survey of Mozart heroes. Lothar Koenigs conducts.

When does it open?
Rome wasn't built in a day, but La Clemenza di Tito returns on March 30 for just six performances.

How do I get tickets?
Tickets are available at or call the box office at (212) 362-6000.

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