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Opera Review: ‘La Clemenza di Tito’

The emperor arouses love and hate

By Barry Bassis
Epoch Times Contributor
Created: November 27, 2012 Last Updated: March 29, 2013
Related articles: Arts & Entertainment » Music
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(L–R) Elina Garanca plays one of the pants roles as Sesto and Barbara Frittoli plays his love as Vitellia. The opera seria favors higher voices. (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

(L–R) Elina Garanca plays one of the pants roles as Sesto and Barbara Frittoli plays his love as Vitellia. The opera seria favors higher voices. (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

NEW YORK—Regicide seems the hot topic at the Metropolitan Opera this season. In “La Clemenza di Tito,” the ruler survives an attempt on his life, but the enlightened monarch is most forgiving—which explains the title, referring to Tito’s grant of clemency to his would-be assassin.

‘La Clemenza’ is a bit of an oddity, since it was composed in an opera seria style and not in the more innovative styles of Mozart’s more famous operas, “Don Giovanni,” “The Magic Flute,” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” (The opera seria of the Baroque period emphasized higher voices and solo singing in a florid style.)

Surprisingly, this is the last opera Mozart composed before his untimely death. Nevertheless, the work is impressive since it was written on commission in only 18 days and the music is consistently beautiful.

The subject matter would seem to be a strange choice for a coronation (the event for which it was commissioned) since it involves an attempt on the life of an emperor.

 (L–R) Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito and Elina Garanca as Sesto at the moment when the emperor grants pardon, in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.” (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

 (L–R) Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito and Elina Garanca as Sesto at the moment when the emperor grants pardon, in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.” (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

The plot is a convoluted love story. The Roman Emperor Tito (Titus) was an actual historical figure, who did pardon two nobles who plotted to kill him. The romance was made up.

In the opera, Vitellia (a previous emperor’s daughter) wants to marry Titus. When she believes she has been rejected in favor of another woman, she convinces Sesto, who is in love with her, to assassinate Tito. The emperor survives and grants Sesto clemency.

Sesto is a pants role, here played superbly by mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca. She convincingly dramatizes the character’s internal struggle between his feelings toward Vitellia and his loyalty to the emperor. Her opening act aria “Parto, parto,” with an accompanying clarinet solo from Anthony McGill, was the highlight of the performance.

Another outstanding mezzo, Kate Lindsey also plays a male role, that of Annio, who is in love with Sesto’s sister, Servilia.

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti is credible as the thoughtful emperor and soprano Barbara Frittoli is a fine Vitellia (delivering a standout rendition of the aria, “Non piu di fiori”).

English soprano Lucy Crowe makes a welcome debut at the Met as Servilia.

The orchestra was well led by Harry Bicket and the chorus was excellent, as always.

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1984 production is still satisfying, especially with this lineup of artists.

“La Clemenza di Tito” runs through Dec. 10 at the Metropolitan Opera and will be broadcast to theaters around the world live in HD on Dec. 1. 
For more information, call 212-362-6000 or visit metopera.org.

Barry Bassis writes about music, theater, travel, and dining for various publications.

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