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Opera Matinee: Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito

Tom McKinney introduces a performance from the 2017 Salzburg Festival of Mozart's last opera, a tale of sexual obsession and divided loyalties, set in Ancient Rome.

Tom McKinney introduces a performance from the 2017 Salzburg Festival of Mozart's last opera, a tale of sexual obsession and divided loyalties, set in Ancient Rome.

Director Peter Sellars and conductor Teodor Currentzis created a special performing-version of this opera for the Festival: shortening some of the recitatives but also including some music from Mozart's Mass K. 427, as well as the 'Adagio und Fuge, K. 546' and the Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477.

Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito - opera seria in two acts, K621

Libretto by Caterino Tommaso Mazzolà after the libretto of the same name (1734) by Pietro Metastasio


Tito Vespasiano.........Russell Thomas (tenor)
Vitellia............................Golda Schultz (soprano)
Servilia...........................Christina Gansch (soprano)
Sesto...............................Marianne Crebassa (contralto)
Annio..............................Jeanine De Bique (mezzo-soprano)
Publio.............................Willard White (bass)

musicAeterna choir
Vitaly Polonsky (chorus master)
Teodor Currentzis (conductor).

3 hours

Music Played

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    La Clemenza di Tito: Act 1

    Performer: Russell Thomas. Orchestra: MusicAeterna.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    La Clemenza di Tito: Act 2

    Performer: Russell Thomas. Orchestra: MusicAeterna.
  • Lili Boulanger

    D'un soir triste

    Orchestra: BBC Philharmonic. Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier.
  • Alfredo Casella

    Scarlattiana - divertimento for piano and orchestra, Op 44: Finale

    Performer: Martin Roscoe. Orchestra: BBC Philharmonic.


Place and time: Rome, in the year 79

Act 1
Vitellia, daughter of the late emperor Vitellio (who had been deposed by Tito's father), wants revenge against Tito. She 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.

Act 2
The act 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 announces 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. He determines that, if the world wishes to accuse him (Tito) of anything, it should 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 è mai questo?). The opera concludes with all the subjects praising the extreme generosity of Tito; he himself asks that the gods cut short his days, should he ever cease to care for the good of Rome.