Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 2nd of August 2015 at 6.03 - 8.30 pm
Sunday 30th of November 2014 at 6.03 - 8.30 pm
Sunday 2nd of August 2015 at 6.03 - 8.30 pm
Sunday 30th of November 2014 at 6.03 - 8.30 pm
MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito, an opera in two acts
Tito................................... Kurt Streit
Vitellia............................. Karina Gauvin
Sesto................................. Kate Lindsey
Annio................................ Julie Boulianne
Servila.............................. Julie Fuchs
Publio............................... Robert Gleadow
Aedes Chorus, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie/Jérémie Rhorer
(recorded in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris by Radio France)
Tito................................... Toby Spence
Vitellia............................. Kristine Opolais
Sesto................................. Tara Erraught
Annio................................ Angela Brower
Servilla............................. Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Publio............................... Tareq Nazmi
Bavarian State Opera Chorus & Orch/Kirill Petrenko
(recorded in the National Theatre, Munich)
I crave your clemency as I advertise this opera of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791, composer of about twenty operas and oratorios),
Mozart is to be distinguished from two other composers with the same surname, namely his father Leopold Mozart, and hs son FX Mozart (the initials FX do not indicate he was a "special effects" person; they stand for Francis Xavier).
This is not one of the celebrated ones; it was the first Mozart opera to be performed in London (1806), and, incidentally, Colin Davis adores it. The irreverent Denis Forman rates it as a B-grade opera, though he admits that it has some good pieces. Mozart certainly wrote it in a hurry (three weeks). You know the line in the movie *Amadeus*, where the emperor says that there are too many notes in *The Marriage of Figaro*. Well this one has half as many as *Figaro* and *Don Giovanni*. It was written at the same time as *Die Zauberflöte* (The Magic Flute) and the Requiem, in 1791 (look again at Mozart's years). It is a "serious opera", entitled *La Clemenza di Tito* (The Clemency of Titus), set to a text of Metastasio (Don Bewley was the world-expert on this wonderful and woeful wordsmith, not as exciting as Da Ponte). The libretto was revised for Mozart by Mazzolà. Caldara had been the first to set it to music (in 1734) followed by five dozen others, including Gluck (1752).
Titus Flavius (29-81) was the Roman soldier who destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70 (no mercy shown on that occasion). He brought back the sacred paraphernalia from the Temple, in triumph (as depicted on his commemorative arch in Rome); and his favourite toy from Judea was Princess Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa II. She is mentioned as a problem in the opera, but does not appear. Titus was Emperor of Rome from 79 to 81 (Roman emperors are back in fashion on television) and the action takes place in 79.
For the stories of Octavius Augustus and Titus Flavius (the second and the second-last of the Caesars) I have looked again at *The Twelve Caesars* by Suetonius (from Julius to Domitian), a poisonous history saturated with assassinations, executions, and massacres.
The reign of Titus was brief (27 months), perhaps because he was too kind, and his brother Domitian was constantly plotting against him. It was rumoured that Titus was a second Nero (certainly he wrote speeches and poems in Greek and Latin, and played the harp), cruel and profligate, with a troop of young men available for his self-gratification, and with an ominous passion for an Eastern princess (remember Julius and Cleopatra!). Well, Titus had to send Berenice home, and tell his pleasure-boys to take up dancing on the stage. He became Chief Priest to keep himself honest, and he
became a just and generous ruler.
Titus had more than his share of national catastrophes: a fire in Rome, lasting three days (just like Nero!); an outbreak of plague; and an eruption of Vesuvius (which destroyed Pompeii and several other towns), and this is mentioned in the opera. In all these he issued wise edicts and distributed
much of his personal wealth to the needy.
Here is the cast of a Glyndebourne production, on a tilted stage, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis.
#Tito (Titus), a benevolent despot: Philip Langridge, tenor.
#Sesto (Sextus), a young patrician, a friend of Titus, and ardent admirer of Vitellia: Diana Montague, mezzo-soprano.
#Vitellia, daughter of Vitellius, the deposed emperor who preceded Tito's father Vespasian; so passionate about Titus she could kill him because he favours Berenice; she uses Sesto's infatuation to persuade him to commit the foul act of regicide: Ashley Putnam, soprano.
#Annio (Annius), another young patrician, to whom Sesto has promised his sister Servilia in marriage, but they don't know that Titus wants her: Martine Mahe, soprano.
#Servilia, sister of Sesto, promised to Annio: Elzbieta Szmytka, soprano.
#Publio (Publius), captain of the guard: Peter Rose, bass.
Notice that some of the men are played by women (though none of the men is a woman). We have shown the opera in two sessions. The first ends with Sesto (a female soprano) going off to murder Tito, and planting a long and fervent kiss on Vitellia's mouth (two women, but they are only pretending).
Will this be like Verdi's Masked Ball, where the king pardons his assassins as he dies?
This is a "serious opera" (opera seria, not "serial opera"). Serious, certainly, but this first act is a little farcical. Tito keeps changing his mind about which woman shall be his "Augusta" (empress), and Vitellia can not keep up with these changes, so the murder is on then off then on again and then off, because Titus has settled on Vitellia; but it is too late; Sextus has already gone to the Capitol, to burn it down and to strike his friend and lord down. He does the foul deed and spreads the word, sending everyone into mourning.
In Act 2, Scene 1, still at the Capitol (what's left of it after the fire). Sextus (alias Sesto) is leaning against a leaning pillar (do not try this at home) telling himself he is a rotter of a rottweiler. Annius corrects him: Titus is not dead. Go and confess and apologize to Titus. Vitellia comes in highly agitated (she does not want her part in the plot revealed) and advises Sextus to flee for his life. Publius arrests him for attempted murder: he struck another conspirator named Lentulus, disguised as Titus (serves him right), and he is not dead either.
There is still an hour left, in which Titus will agonize over whether to be inclement (like the weather)
All this is good exercise, for the mind, and it will make us "more worthier" (as King Lear says), more clement, more mild, and not prone to stormy outbursts, as the weather is.
The word "clemenza" ("clemency") has echoes of "clementine", a sweet citrus fruit, not a lemon (though some critics mistakenly think this opera is a "lemon"). And on the other side of "clement" in the dictionary is "clematis", a genus of plants which includes "old man's beard". We will not
be seeing a grey beard on Titus in any of our versions (but the great basso Kurt Rydl, as Publius, was not prepared to part with his colourful whiskers).
So, we now have a taste of the best-known piece from the opera, No 9 ("Parto", "I am departing"), with the clarinet to the fore. Sextus sings this to his beloved Vitellia (though his love is quite unrequited) as he goes off, at her instigation, to stab his friend and lord, the emperor Titus, and burn down the Capitol. We see flames lighting up the Flavian amphitheatre, later known as the Colosseum, allegedly because of its size (but there had been a colossus statue of Nero there, which was demolished, and the colossal epithet was transferred to the stadium) it is also called Coliseum, but properly Collesseum, since we Collesses regard it as a family heirloom). This was built on the site of Nero's Domus Aurea,the Golden House, the glorious nucleus of his new Rome, after the great fire. In my interpretation of Revelation 13, the Beast with the personal number 666 is Nero; the numerical value of Nero Caesar (NRWN QSR written in Hebrew letters) is in fact 666; he is the Antichrist who falsely claims divinity; the new gold-plated Jerusalem in Revelation 21 is set up as superior to Nero's golden city.
After Sextus is dragged away for interrogation, the Roman people sing a chorus of thanks for the emperor's survival from the attempt on his life by the bungling conspirators (Julius Caesar was not so fortunate in his choice of assassins).
Publius tells Titus that the populace (with other wild animals) is assembled in "the festive arena" awaiting some circus-sport. Titus cannot believe Sextus is guilty. Eventually Publius gives to Titus the Senate's sentence of death on Sextus and his accomplices (to be devoured by wild beasts), for his signature. Annius pleads for the life of their mutual friend. Titus is in shock. But he summons Sextus into the imperial presence, to explain himself.
Sextus denies that he wanted the throne for himself, but he refuses to incriminate Vitellia (unlike Adam, "that woman made me do it"). Titus cannot understand this seeming arrogance, and finds him guilty. He signs the death warrant. After further consideration he destroys it. Clemency is triumphant
(but we and Titus are the only ones who know that at this point in time).
Annius and Servilia implore Vitellia to intercede for Sextus, but apparently to no avail. However, because Titus has not spurned her, Vitellia realizes that Sextus has not dobbed her in. She decides to own up, and abandon her dreams of flower-garlands and a bridal-bed, and accept her punishment of death (22-23).
Titus enters the amphitheatre to the acclaim of the crowd (24). They are ready for the "joyous entertainments". The felons stand in dread, and the felines wait to be fed. The former are to be the "pasto infelice" (the hapless repast) of the latter.
Titus reminds Sextus of his crimes. (What crimes? He had foiled the attempt of Lentulus to murder the emperor! If Sextus had played his cards right he would have been awarded a medal and a holiday-villa on the Italian Riviera!)
Anyway, Vitellia rushes in, kneels down, and gets it all off her chest by blurting out her own guilt: it was all her idea to seduce his best friend into slaying him, for twice passing her over (first Berenice, then Servilia) when he was looking for a suitable bride to rule at his side.
Titus is disconcerted, but still able to burst into passionate recitative. Now he has two of his dear friends to punish severely or pardon sincerely. Can he rise to such heights of magnanimity and clemency?
Benevolence and malevolence contend for dominance within him, but in the end (Fine) compassion overrules revenge. All the prisoners are reprieved. The lions and tigers skulk and sulk (not respectively, nor respectfully). No free lunch today.
Finally, I have been assailed by the odd idea that *Titus* is Mozart's *Parsifal* (goodness and light amid the evil and darkness of the world), and *The Magic Flute* (with its secret societies or guilds) must be his forerunner of *The Mastersingers*.
Notes for our opera sessions:
As I see it, the purpose of these sessions is to get to know this opera
better. At present I can only whistle or hum a couple of bars of the
So, we will start all over again. Levine's performance of the overture is
imposing. We see Titus, in un-ancient dress, looking more like King Louis or
Emperor Leopold, wandering through the ruins, past his own statue, and
having visions of the three women he is involved with:
(1) Berenice (Jewess, in white, who will have to be sent home);
(2) Vitellia (daughter of Vitellius, a previous emperor, deposed and
replaced by Vespasian, the father of Titus; she wants to marry Titus and
become empress, or else to kill him for choosing Berenice, having persuaded
Sextus, his friend and her ardent admirer, to assassinate Titus);
(3) Servilia (sister of Sextus, and the beloved of his friend Annius).
We will have a peep at Sextus (Tatiana Troyanos) and Vitellia (Carol
Neblett) fiendishly plotting, and then go to Drottningholm to see the
orchestra play the second half of the overture, using old instruments and
wearing the same garb as the performers, even later than the style in the
Vienna recording. And we will see this version of Act 1, up to the point
where we left off last time (the parting passionate kiss, which does not
happen in this one).
Next we will go back to our Glyndebourne production, with Sextus (Diana
Montague) singing "Parto, parto" again (listen for the clarinet), then
planting a kiss (twice!) on Vitellia's lips (Ashley Putnam). Most of the
men's parts are given to women, remember
Since we last partied and parted (singing Parto, parto,"I depart ditto"), I
have been looking at two more versions of *La Clemenza di Tito* (courtesy of
Don Bewley). The bad news is that they do not have subtitles either.
Nevertheless, they show us some different approaches, especially in the
One has the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under James Levine (though the
scenery is outside, among Roman ruins). The other is on the stage of the
Drottningholm Court Theatre, in Sweden, conductor Arnold Östman.
We will continue with the Glyndebourne production, from where we left
off to the end (from 15 to 26), with Philip Langridge as Tito, Diana
Montague as Sesto/Sextus, and Ashley Putnam as Vitellia (daughter of a
previous deposed emperor); London Philharmonic, Andrew Davis.
However, I will wrap around it some more excerpts from the fascinating
version set in the Roman ruins connected with Titus and the other Flavian
emperors. Eric Tappy is Titus; Tatiana Troyanos is Sextus; Carol Neblett is
Vitellia; Anne Howells is Annius; Catherine Malfitano is Servilia; Vienna
Phiharmonic, James Levine.Tito 3, at 3 La Leña Grove, Summerhill, on (2/3/2006), at 2 pm.