La Clemenza di Tito
by, 03-28-2012 at 07:39 PM (2787 Views)
I've been listening to Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito c. 1955 conducted by Joseph Keilberth. This is a true odd-ball among Mozart's oeuvre. It was the last opera Mozart began, although he completed it and premiered it before The Magic Flute. It was commissioned to honor the coronation of Leopold II after the death of his brother, Joseph II, as King of Bohemia. The deadline for completion was so short that Salieri turned it down, and Mozart was ultimately offered double his usual sum. Unable to find a new libretto on such short notice, he turned to the text by Metastasio that had been set numerous times by other composers. The theme, the clemency or benevolence of Titus was seen as ideal for the occasion.
La Clemenza di Tito was written as an opera seria, it broke from the usual model (and the original libretto) in eliminating the da capo arias and adding ensemble scenes and large modern arias.
The recitatives were originally "farmed out" and set to music... quite likely by Mozart's "pupil", Franz Xaver Süssmayr (who traveled with Mozart and his wife, Constanze, to Prague, for the coronation as well as the premier of La Clemenza di Tito, and The Magic Flute, as well as a performance of Don Giovanni.. The arias, duets, etc... were all set by Mozart and include some of his most marvelous music. His scoring for clarinets is especially delicious. The premier was a flop with the wife of Leopold supposedly making an off the cuff comment about typical German swinishness, yet Mozart would live long enough to hear of reports of the popularity and success of both La Clemenza... and Die Zauberflöte.
La Clemenza di Tito faded rapidly from view following Mozart's death... much like his other great late opera, Cosi fan tutte. Where Cosi... was berated by Beethoven and Wagner as an immoral waste of Mozart's divine talent, La Clemenza di Tito was criticized for the excessive use of recitatives. The thrilling overture is immediately follwed by a three minute narrative recitative. The classical theatrical form, in which most of the action takes place off stage and is conveyed by the narrator is also strange for an opera by Mozart... or any composer after Mozart. Nevertheless, the opera was "rediscovered" and "rehabilitated" in the mid-20th century and today it is recognized as ranking among Mozart's greatest achievements. While it may not stand up in comparison to Don Giovanni or Die Zauberflöte, in all likelihood, it would be recognized as a major achievement by any other composer. In 2011 and 2012 (up to the present) there have been 89 performances of La Clemenza...
This recording, conducted by Joseph Keilberth with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestera recorded in 1955 is true "old school" Mozart... the orchestra of full-blooded Beethovian scale... and yet the recitatives have been stripped down... translated into German, Süssmayr's musical accompaniments are dispensed with the result sounding something closer to the "Singspiel" model of Die Zauberflöte. It is hard to tell whether this approach... eliminating all but Mozart's music... or retaining the whole of the original score is the better approach. The elimination of Süssmayr's settings of the recitatives speeds things along and does away with everything that isn't by Mozart himself... yet at a cost of a flow in the drama which Gluck and Mozart had worked so hard to establish in opera. Rene Jacobs, makes an argument for retaining the entire recitatives as originally written. As opposed to mere narration, Jacob's singers employ decorative and expressive ornamentation and well-crafted declamation to plumb the emotional depths of Metastasio's elegant poetry. John Eliot Gardiner takes a middle road... cutting more than a few minutes from the recitatives and pushing the drama.
Whichever route you take, this is an important opera by Mozart that certainly deserves to be heard... and discussed more than it is.