01 Jun 2008

MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito — Covent Garden 1976

La Clemenza di Tito: Opera seria in two acts, K621.

Music composed by W. A. Mozart. Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, adapted by Caterino MazzolĂ .

First Performance: 6 September 1791, National Theatre, Prague.

Principal characters:
Tito [Titus Flavius Vespasianus], Roman Emperor Tenor
Vitellia, daughter of the deposed Emperor Vitellius Soprano
Servilia, sister of Sextus, in love with Annius Soprano
Sesto [Sextus], friend of Titus, in love with Vitellia Soprano
Annio [Annius], friend of Sextus, in love with Servilia Soprano
Publio [Publius], prefect of the praetorian guard Bass

Setting: Rome, c. 80 C.E.


Act I

Scene 1. Vitellia's apartments

Vitellia, daughter of a previous emperor of Rome, who had hoped in vain to marry the Emperor Tito (Titus), incites Sesto (Sextus) to prove his love for her by killing Tito, despite the fact that he is a friend.

Annio (Annius), a friend of Sesto, brings him a summons from the emperor. Vitellia makes an insulting remark about Tito's love for the Jewish Queen Berenice, only to learn that Tito has parted from her and sent her back home. With renewed hopes of becoming empress, she tells Sesto to defer his assassination plans, giving him no reason, demanding that he trust her. Sesto consents with delight when Annio asks for the hand of his sister Servilia.

Scene 2. The Roman Forum

The people acclaim Tito. He calls Sesto and Annio to him and asks Sesto for the hand of Servilia. Both are taken aback, but Annio collects himself sufficiently to congratulate the emperor on his choice, and is given the task of conveying the news to Servilia.

Tito keeps Sesto at his side, remarking that the joy of rewarding friends is the only pleasure he derives from his position. Annio laments the loss of Servilia and when he tells her of her fate, she also grieves for their lost happiness.

Scene 3. The imperial palace on the Palatine Hill

Publio, commander of the Praetorian guard, brings Tito a list of those who have defamed him and his predecessors. Tito deplores the investigation which has produced the list and forgives those named on it.

Servilia confesses to the emperor that she loves Annio, but agrees to marry him if he still wishes. He releases her from any obligation to him, while wishing that all around him were as frank as she. Vitellia greets Servilia ironically as future empress and beloved of Tito, but Servilia answers cryptically that Vitellia may still be able to marry him. Not understanding, Vitellia rages at having first Berenice, then Servilia prefered to her, and threatens vengeance. She stirs up Sesto again and he promises to avenge her, but when Publio brings the news that Tito has now chosen her as his wife, she regrets the haste with which she sent Sesto off.

Scene 4. The square before the Capitol

Sesto, torn between love and friendship, resolves to die rather than betray his friend, but his plot is already under way and the Capitol is burning. Feeling that he is now committed, he enters the Capitol in search of Tito. A crowd gathers and Sesto appears, announcing the assassination of the emperor. Vitellia warns him not to betray himself.

Act II

Scene 1. The square before the Capitol

Sesto has learnt that he stabbed another man in mistake for Tito. He confesses his attempted crime to Annio, declaring that he will leave Rome as a repentant exile. But he is not yet suspected, and Annio advises that he should continue to serve the emperor and by his fidelity atone for his crime.

But Vitellia counsels him to leave at once, fearing not only for his life, but for her honor as the instigator of the attempt. Sesto swears that her secret is safe with him.

He is arrested by Publio, as the man he had stabbed had not died and had been able to reveal the identity of his attacker. Sesto is led off to be tried by the Senate, leaving Vitellia a prey to remorse.

Scene 2. A great hall

The people rejoice in the safety of Tito and he expresses his gratitude for their devotion. He asks Publio about the progress of the proceedings against Sesto, trying to find excuses for his friend, but Publio can give him no comfort.

Annio begs for mercy for Sesto, but is interrupted by Publio, bringing news of the condemnation of Sesto, who is to be thrown to the beasts in the arena. He hands Tito the death warrant to sign, but the emperor, torn between justice and mercy, decides to hear Sesto before signing. He offers Sesto the chance to exculpate himself, but his lips are sealed by his promise to Vitellia and he says that he deserves and desires death.

Servilia and Annio beg Vitellia, as their future empress, to intercede for Sesto, reproving her when she seems to hesitate. Vitellia is moved to admiration by the steadfastness of Sesto, examines her conscience and resolves to confess, even though it will cost her the throne she has sought and may even mean her death.

Scene 3. The Amphitheatre

The people have gathered for the games in which Sesto is to die. Vitellia confesses, explaining that she had misconstrued Tito's customary affability into expressions of affection and felt spurned when he seemed to choose others instead of her. In the face of so much treachery, Tito decides to be magnanimous, to forgive and forget.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for an analysis of La Clemenza di Tito as propaganda.