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Introduction to La Clemenza di Tito

La clemenza di Tito

What's it all about? 

La clemenza di Tito is an opera seria that Mozart loosely based off the life of the benevolent Roman emperor Titus (Tito), an emperor known for his generosity and compassion.

After deposing the previous emperor, Vitellius, Emperor Tito is dismayed to learn that his new political office doesn't allow him to marry his foreign lover, Berenice. Instead, the new ruler must cement his reign by marrying a woman of Rome. Begrudgingly, he decides to marry the beautiful Servilia, sister to his best friend Sesto but unbeknownst to him, Servilia is in love with the young Annio! 

Meanwhile, Tito's matrimonial bait-and-switch enrages Vitellia, the daughter of the Emperor Vitellius, who believes she deserves to be his wife. Vitellia convinces Sesto (who is in love with her) to murder Tito and burn the Capitol to avenge her honour!

Throw in the fact that there are not one, but two trouser roles in the two love triangles and you have the complicated web that is La clemenza di Tito

Why is it special?

La clemenza di Tito was one of the last pieces that Mozart completed before his sudden death in 1791. While the opera was frequently performed after Mozart's passing, it fell out of favour in the early 19th century and it wasn't until the mid-20th century that the opera became popular again. The current consensus is that La clemenza di Tito is one of Mozart's late masterpieces.


What will it look like?

Directed by Christopher Alden, this production of La clemenza di Tito is a modernized production that has a '60s or '70s feel. Set designer Andrew Cavanaugh Holland's stage represents a civic space, based on the Lincoln or Kennedy centres, that features cool, marble-like walls where the public can write its dissent if need be. The costumes designed by Terese Wadden are Roman garb with a modernist edge with characters sporting glasses, headbands and other mod accessories. 

Who is starring in it?

After a wildly successful run as the mischievous Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, tenor and COC-favourite Michael Schade returns to portray the Roman emperor, Tito.

Metropolitan opera-favourite and highly sought after mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard makes her role and COC debut in the trouser role of Sesto, the loyal best friend of Tito who falls madly in love with Vitellia.

A rising opera star, soprano Keri Alkema recently appeared at the COC in our 2012 production of The Tales of Hoffmann as Giulietta and returns to tackle her role debut as the vengeful but misunderstood Vitellia.

An Ensemble Studio graduate, mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta returns to the COC from her stint in the Met's Lindemann Program to make her role debut as Annio, the young man besotted with Servilia.

After embracing her role as the saucy Adele in Die Fledermaus, Ensemble Studio member Mireille Asselin performs the role of the gentle and loyal Servilia.

Bass-baritone and Ensemble Studio graduate Robert Gleadow returns to the COC in his role debut as Publio, commander of the Praetorian Guard.


What is a trouser role?

Trouser roles are roles sung by female singers that portray adolescent boys or young male characters. Some trouser roles were created to replace castrati, but by Mozart's day and age, castrati were rare and trouser roles were mostly written for a female voice. Counter-tenors may also perform these roles but more often than not, it's a mezzo-soprano. Well-known trouser roles include Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro or Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus.

Who was Mozart?

Mozart was a child prodigy who learned how to play the harpsichord at four, wrote a symphony at eight and an opera when he was 11. Throughout his adolescence, he roamed across Europe and achieved major success when he was commissioned to write The Abduction from the Seraglio. Despite his musical successes with operas like The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte, Mozart never earned much money and died of a swift, violent illness shortly after the premiere of The Magic Flute. For more about Mozart, read his composer biography.

When did it premiere?

La clemenza di Tito was first performed on September 6, 1791 at the Estate Theatre in Prague as a commission to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Mozart's The Magic Flute premiered a few weeks later and his unfinished Requiem debuted shortly after his death in mid-December. Other music released that year included Lodoïska by Luigi Cherubini and Joseph Haydn's Miracle Symphony. Learn more about the history of the performance.


What are the most memorable musical moments?

Ah, perdona al primo affetto - Annio is pained to tell his beloved Servilia that Tito has chosen her as his bride, and in the process reveals his true feelings for her. Luckily, she feels the same!

Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio - Sesto agrees to kill his best friend, as instructed by the woman that he loves and sings this long and painful aria.

Vengo... aspettate... Sesto! - Vitellia finally gets what she wants when Tito chooses her as his bride! Unfortunately, Sesto is already on his way to kill him. Can Vitellia stop him in time?

Visit COC Radio to view all of our listening guides.

Photo: (top) Charlotte Dobbs as Servilia; (middle) Andrew Funk as Publio and Renata Pokupić as Sesto; (bottom) Dominic Armstrong as Tito and the chorus in Chicago Opera Theater’s production of La clemenza di Tito, 2009. Photos by Rich Hein.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in 2012/2013 / comments (1) / permalink

Jean O'Grady (2/8/2013 8:47:00 PM)
Really good listening guide--very helpful.

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



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