SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 43: "La
Clemenza di Tito" Special
Anna Caterina Antonacci
Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
Mozart, “La Clemenza di Tito” overture.
Due to underwhelming lack of unpopular demand, Saturdee Opry Links limps
forward. From Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," which has nothing to do with Tito
Puente, here is the gorgeous mezzo aria, "Parto, Parto." Wait! What's that you,
say? Das ist kein mezzo? Richtig! It's a trouser role, Volks, which should be
very popular with the LGBTQRSTUV community. That is, it's a woman cast in a male
role. No no---no PC "gender liberation" implied; it was just a tradition of the
time. Here is one of the great mezzos of today, Elīna Garanča---in a recording
Role : Sextus (Sesto), Titus's friend who is in love with Vitellia
Synopsis : After Servilia orders Sextus to kill Titus and set fire to Rome,
Sextus meekly acquiesces and sings that he will do anything for her beauty and
And here is a little of how Elīna does it on stage:
By the way, "La Clemenza di Tito," which has nothing to do with the Jackson 5,
was being performed by L.A. Opera in 2019. Mozart
wrote it in the last year of his life, in 1791 (while working on "Magic Flute"),
and it was (and is) justifiably popular. Yet this was serious fare, hardly the
farcical stuff for which Wolfie was duly famed. There were politics involved in its
creation, as Wiki notes:
"No opera of Mozart was more clearly pressed into the service of a political
agenda than "La clemenza di Tito," in this case to promote the reactionary
political and social policies of an aristocratic elite. No evidence exists to
evaluate Mozart's attitude toward this, or even whether he was aware of the
internal political conflicts raging in the kingdom of Bohemia in 1791."
My guess is that Mozart would have been disgusted, and farted in the
general direction of the elite (given his scatological penchant, perhaps
literally.) Here is a shocker, at least to me: Jonas Kaufmann singing Mozart.
Kaufmann, as you might know, has implications of Wagnerian heldentenor (or at least baritenor), and I had no idea he sang anything as light and lyrical as Mozart.
Although this aria, "Del più sublime soglio," does have some heroic qualities
Sung by Titus, emperor of Rome (by a real man---guess Wolfgang couldn't make an
emperor into a trouser role.)
Synopsis : Titus has just announced that he will marry Servilia, Sextus's
sister, because Rome will like her. He sings that the real joy of being a ruler
is being able to reward faithful subjects like Servilia with favors, such as
this marriage (which she doesn't want since she is in love with Annius).
I am pretty sure that the first opera I ever heard was in my father's white '51
Mercury. He used to visit on Saturdays when I was very young, living with my
mother, and as many of you know, Saturday mornings are the long-standing
time-slot for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. So I'd stand in the front seat
of the Mercury (until my father made me sit), and these howling, highly
animated, and otherwise expressive voices would emanate from the chrome grill
covering the radio---live from the Met! Hmm. What was this, I wondered? Dad
music, apparently. My earliest memory is of hearing what had to have been a
bass. Quite an imprinting experience, I guess, because when I think of opera, I
think of the bass-baritone voice. Here is a marvelous bass aria from "La
Clemenza di Tito," "Tardi s'avvede d'un tradimento," which should be sung
anytime I arrive anywhere (see translation below.) It is sung masterfully here
by The Mystery Baritone!
Role : Publius (Publio), prefect of the Pretorian Guard
Setting : the Imperial garden
Synopsis : Titus cannot believe that Sextus could attempt his murder and set
fire to the city. He asks Publius about Sextus's loyalty and Publius responds
with this aria, singing that a truly loyal person would not commit such a crime.
"No more flowers!" Perish the thought! This is Vitellia's aria from Mozart's "Clemenza
di Tito" (which has nothing to do with Tito Francona), in which she sings of her
demise, asking "Who, seeing my sorrow, would ever take pity on me?" Funny
thing---I ask myself this each morning! I am including the aria and the lengthy
outburst preceding it (both with translation), though the aria begins around
5:50, for those wishing to cheat themselves out of the build-up. I have selected
the splendid Ana Caterina Antonacci, whose operatic career has been (self)
confined to Europe. I admit that I have selected her rendition partly because of
her breasts. Report me to the Pink Pussy Brigade.
Role : Vitellia, daughter of the former Emperor Vitellius
Setting : The Imperial garden
Synopsis : Vitellia, daughter of the deposed Emperor Vitellius, is in love with
Emperor Titus. He loves another, so she induces Sextus, friend of Emperor Titus
who is in love with her, to murder the Emperor. Sextus does not succeed, but is
accused, and she realizes that she must confess before the Emperor that she
asked him to commit the crime, as Sextus is prepared to die for her if she does
not. She realizes that she must abandon her hopes for the throne and marriage to
Titus by telling the truth. Got it?
Sextus, Titus, Publius, Annius, references to the goddess Hymen. . .now that
sounds more Woody Allen than Mozart, eh? Here, at least, is an un-ridiculous moment: the emperor Titus
wrestles with his conscience, apparently played by Andy Kaufman, and displays a stunningly
moral attitude, certainly for an empire ruler. You know, like Trump. (Oh,
wait--that would be moral turpitude.) Here is the translation of the aria, "Se'all
"If a hard heart is necessary to a ruler,
ye benevolent gods,
either take the empire from me
or give me another heart.
If I cannot assure the loyalty
of my realms by love,
I care not for a loyalty
that is born of fear."
Titus for president!
The more I hear Kaufmann in this role, the more I like it. His larger, un-Mozartean
voice brings some heft and nobility to the role.
Synopsis : After signing Sextus's death warrant and then tearing it up, Titus
sings to himself of the heartbreak that this whole incident has caused himself.
Now just to wonk things up and seriously bore people, here is how a more typical
Mozart tenor would sound---as opposed to the previous samples featuring dramatic
tenor (a category of voice) Jonas Kaufmann. Why, did you know there is a WHOLE
CATEGORY, "Mozart Tenor?" Yes, really. I know that shocks you into full
alertness and wonder, as it does me. This is one Leopold Simoneau, singing "Ah,
se fosse intorno," which has nothing to do with Bob Fosse, from Mozart's "La
Clemenza di Tito," which has nothing to do with Tito Schipa. But it does have to
do with an emperor wishing for honesty among his aides and rivals. Imagine that.
Mozart Tenor, from Wiki: "A Mozart tenor is yet another distinct tenor type. In
Mozart singing, the most important element is the instrumental approach of the
vocal sound which implies: flawless and slender emission of sound, perfect
intonation, legato, diction and phrasing, capability to cope with the dynamic
requirements of the score, beauty of timbre, secure line of singing through
perfect support and absolute breath control, musical intelligence, body
discipline, elegance, nobility, agility and, most importantly, ability for
dramatic expressiveness within the narrow borders imposed by the strict Mozartian style."
Synopsis : After Servilia throws herself at Titus's feet, begging him to let her
marry Annius, Titus relents and declares that if everyone in his court was so
honest, being a ruler would be a lot easier.
About the great lyric French-Canadian tenor, Simoneau:
When in doubt, Mozart. I recall Jerry Garcia saying he listened to Charlie
Parker "like I go to get a drink of water." I would apply this sentiment to
Mozart. And I would especially apply it to "La Clemenza di Tito," which, to my
uneducated ears, is marked by eleven (!) warm, comforting, stately arias. Here
is another, exquisitely (really) sung by soprano Elzbieta Szmytka. Oh, the soft
high notes! With English subtitles.
Role : Servilia, Sesto's sister who is in love with Annius.
Synopsis : Servilia finds Vitellia crying. She believes that she is weeping
because Sextus will die and tells her in this aria that her pity for Sextus is
useless for he will still die. Unbeknownst to her though, Vitellia is crying
because she is the one who caused his execution.
Today's SOL is/are dedicated to Mozart's later work paean to forgiveness (see previous
link), "La Clemenza di Tito," and its uncharacteristically restrained, gentle
lyricism. Music and sentiment badly needed in our time? Here is another example,
"Torna di Tito a lato." I mean, you wouldn't know to listen to this that the
characters are discussing what to do in the wake of another character, Sextus,
setting fire to the city and trying to murder the emperor. Soprano Kate Lindsay
in the trouser role of Annius.
Synopsis : Sextus and Annius meet after Sextus has set fire to the city and
tried to kill the Emporer. Sextus believes he must leave the country, but Annius
tries to persuade him that it was a mistake and that Titus will forgive all if
Sextus returns and confesses.
Lucky for us all, Salieri turned down a chance to compose "La Clemenza di Tito,"
and the job fell to Mozart. And yet while Mozart composed lovely music, with
beautiful aria after beautiful aria, the work is considered a rung down from his
best. Which still puts it ten rungs above Salieri, in terms of sheer
inspiration. Perhaps this was due to it
being a commission, "just a job," and the Master being frazzled, of delicate
constitution, in his final year. He was also stretched thin, being consumed with
the brilliance and wackiness of "Magic Flute." Was this a sort of exercise in
calm and stateliness, for relief? Well. I tend to, by nature, have minority
opinions, and this case is no exception. There is a lack of hysteria, a
refreshing sobriety, dignity in the arias of "Clemenza," and while they
admittedly do lack in drama, they compensate in calm and depth. And the opera,
not incidentally, serves as a monumental tribute to forgiveness. Here is a
review of a Met production, which offers serious background and context, as
opposed to my frivolities.
Yes, I know. You're sitting there, wringing your hands, biting your toenails,
wondering, "Aren't there any goddamned motherfucking duets in this goddamned
motherfucking opera?" Well, I have that answer for you. Yes! There are duets in
"La Clemenza di Tito." And a quintet and sextet! Here is one-for-two, or
two-for-one, the love duet, "Ah, perdona al primo affetto." It is lilting,
lyrical, gentle, lovely as can be. Note again: Annius is a trouser role. With
English subtitles. Duet begins at the two-minute mark.
FINAL BOW: Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," which has nothing to do with the
great second baseman, Tito Fuentes, or Tito's Tacos (inside Venice joke),
concludes spectacularly. Gee, what a surprise, a Mozart opera ending with
spectacle. Yet it is somehow more muted---in keeping with the rest of the
opera---than what we might regard as typical Mozart. Yet there is a sextet!
Tatiana Troyanos, Eric Tappy, Carol Neblett, Anne Howells, Catherine Malfitano
and Kurt Rydl sang the Sextet from Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1980 film adaptation
of "La Clemenza di Tito." Something about this opera just conveys comfort. So
beautiful, at all times.
Translation: (search for "fifteenth scene"):
Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
When Mozart began work on "La Clemenza di Tito," he had just finished "The Magic
Flute." Did he ever compose anything more antic? Small wonder, perhaps, that the
opera to follow---his last, "Tito"---was so comparatively understated.
Wolfgang had, "as fate would have it," spent his remaining lightheartedness. And
spectacularly. Here is the "Papageno/Papagena" aria from "Flute," in English, in
a wonderfully surreal production.
Saturdee Opry Links Second Encore!
Tito Puente: Mambo Gozon
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