29 Mar 2012

Mozart – Overture to La Clemenza di Tito

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) – Mozart was working simultaneously on the Requiem and Die Zauberflöte in 1791 when he received a commission for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia. The opera La Clemenza di Tito enjoyed a less than enthusiastic reception then and now shoulders the unfortunate infamy of taking time away from the other two projects. In the summer of 1791, time was not something Mozart had much more of.  

THE MUSIC – Despite some reported early pronouncements of a “most tedious spectacle” that offered little more than “German swinishness,” La Clemenza di Tito has lately known redemption in scholarly circles and opera houses alike. The tireless rehabilitative efforts on behalf of this opera by Mozart’s widow Constanze are a major part of the story but Tito did have other initial supporters. His first biographer noted the work’s “still sublimity” and wondered if the opera did not in fact rival Don Giovanni. Mozart was under considerable pressure to complete Tito quickly and apparently did so in less than three weeks, a feat that initially seems to have damned the music with a de rigueur categorization as stiff and uninspired in comparison to his other 1791 opera. Had Tito been written at any other time in Mozart’s life, away from the unforgiving glare of Die Zauberflöte, it would likely have been seen as Constanze saw it then and we see it now – as a very fine and highly dignified example of the fading opera seria style. The libretto came from Pietro Metastasio and his opera of the same name from 1734. The story tells of the Roman Emperor Titus and his extraordinarily generous clemency of the various plotters against his life and throne. Though the overture is strangely devoid of themes from the opera itself, it does set a perfectly noble mood, one worthy of both a Roman and an Austrian monarch.            

THE WORLD – Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was completed in 1791. James Fitch was awarded a patent for his steamboat in America. Haydn was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. 1791 was also the publication year of Justine by the Marquis de Sade.

THE CONNECTION – The Overture to La Clemenza di Tito was last performed by Utah Symphony in 1981 under Varujan Kojian.  Utah Opera has yet to produce the full opera.