La Clemenza Di Tito (The Clemency of Titus)


Music by Mozartlyric opera of chicago

Libretto by Caterino Mazzola, adapted from a text by Metastasio

An opera in two acts in Italian

Conductor Sir Andrew Davis

Stage Director Sir David McVicar

Revival Director Marie Lambert

Superb trouser roles sing into the heavens in Mozart’s opera seria masterpiece

In 1791, Mozart quickly composed an opera for the coronation of  Leopold II of Bohemia in Prague. His commission was to feature a well know castrato and it utilized a libretto by Metastasio. La Clemenza Di Tito was in the form of opera seria (an Italian musical term which refers to the noble and “serious” style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe from the 1710s to c. 1770). While opera seria was out-of-date by 1791, Mozart was commissioned to use the form and he did while carrying the form into new heights.  The opera was hit in Prague but it took time for Europe to accept the work. In the 20th Century, the opera was considered a minor work by Mozart but now, scholars realize the genius of Mozart’s opera.

lyric opera of chicago

The Lyric Opera of Chicago finally performed the opera in 1989 and now we have a new-to-Chicago La Clemenza Di Tituto directed by Sir David McVicar conducted by Sit Andrew Davis. This is an amazingly wonderful opera that takes the opera seria form with Mozart’s lush score into new heights with the marvelous work from a group of sopranos an mezzo-sopranos.

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The opera is the story of Roman Emperor Titus (79-81 A.D.) know as Tito, sung expertly by Matthew Polenzani). he was know for his military process and as the one Emperor ultimately  forgave those who plotted against him.

As the story unfolds, we witness complex twists including conspiracy, betrayal and treachery.  Sopranos and mezzo sparanos never sounded so fresh and vibrant. They give depth to Mozart’s score. The gender bending casting, faithful to Mozart’s original gave homoerotic hints as subtext.

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Vitelia (soprano Amanda Majeski) and Sesto (the fabulous mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato) plotted against Tito devising a plot to assassinate the Emperor. When the failed plot is discovered Sesto is to be put to death according to Roman Law. But Tito is a forgiving man who is torn by his duty to the state and his friendship for Sesto. When Tito grants clemency to all his plotters, watch for the Praetorian Guard’s reaction during the ending scene.

What makes this opera soar, besides the lush Mozart score, are the trouser roles , especially the amazingly powerful voice of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato who sings and acts Sesto magnificently. The arias and the duets are beautiful, melodic and emotionally powerful.  I think opera seria, now rarely performed, deserves its place in an repertory of produced operas. The almost three hours of wonderful female voices together with a fine performance by Matthew Polenzani as the conflicted Emperor Tito, make for a enchanting night at the opera. Singing dominates with a brilliant Mozart score. Don’t miss this little appreciated Mozart work that is now being rediscovered.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 8, 2014

At the Civic Opera House, Madison & Wacker, Chicago,, tickets up to $249, through March 23, 2014

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