Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” was composed and premiered on Sept. 6, 1791, around the time when he also finished his final opera “Die Zauberflöte,” before passing away at the age of 35.
“La Clemenza di Tito” was produced to celebrate Leopold II’s coronation as King of Bohemia, an event which sought to ease tensions in the country between the people and nobility that arose after the French Revolution.
Short Plot Summary
Set in the 1st Century AD, the Roman Emperor Tito seeks to marry Berenice, daughter of the king of Judea. This upsets Vitellia, the daughter of the deposed emperor, who hoped to wed Tito and become his empress. In her jealousy she bids Tito’s friend Sesto to kill the emperor, urging him by the deep love he has for her. Vitella stays her order after finding out that Tito now intends to pass over Berenice so he can take a Roman wife, in accordance with state law.
Due to Servillia being in love with Sesto’s friend Annio, they implore Tito to reconsider after revealing to him their love for one another. Touched by their honesty, Tito decides to abandon his idea of wedding Servillia. Unaware of this development a jealous Vitellia reaffirms Sesto’s order to assassinate Tito and he departs swiftly. Shortly after, Annio and the guard Publio arrive to escort Vitellia to Tito, who seeks to make her his empress, filling her with dread over what she has set into motion. While Sesto is at first reluctant, he manages to set fire to the Capitol building and murder a person whom he believes is Emperor Tito.
Publius arrives to arrest Sesto after it is revealed that he only stabbed a co-conspirator who had disguised himself as Tito. After the Senate pronounces Sesto guilty and sentences him to death, Tito rips up the death warrant after an internal struggle, choosing instead to forgive his friend. A distraught Vitellia is persuaded by Annio and Servillia to confess her part in the assassination plot to save Sesto from execution, and while her confession shocks Tito, he tells her that he had already forgiven Sesto before extending his pardon to her as well. Emperor Tito is praised by the people for his clemency, and he swears that if he should fail to care for Rome and her people, that gods will cut short the rest of his days.
Famous Musical Numbers:
Sesto’s aria in Act I, “Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio” is well-known for its difficulty, building up from emotionally-charged and sustained lyrics to a triumphant coloratura as Sesto finds the resolve to kill Tito for the sake of Vitellia’s love.
Watch and Listen
Here is an audio recording with conductor Louis Langrée leading a cast that includes Michael Schade, Alice Coote, Malin Hartelius, and Rosa Feala from the Barbican in 2012.