MOZART La clemenza di Tito Mackerras

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W. A. MOZART

La clemenza di Tito
Magdalena Kozená · Rainer Trost
Hillevi Martinpelto · Lisa Milne
Christine Rice · John Relyea
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras
Int. Release 03 Feb. 2006
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CD DDD 0289 477 5792 4 GH 2
Magdalena Kožená headlines new benchmark studio recording of Mozart’s final opera


Track List

CD 1: Mozart: La clemenza di Tito

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
La clemenza di Tito, K.621

Vocal Material arranged by Sir Charles Mackerras

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Act 1

Hillevi Martinpelto, Magdalena Kozená, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Magdalena Kozená, Hillevi Martinpelto, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Christine Rice, Hillevi Martinpelto, Magdalena Kozená, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Hillevi Martinpelto, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Christine Rice, Magdalena Kozená, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Magdalena Kozená, Christine Rice, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

8.
0:00
1:52

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, Mark Hindley

John Relyea, Christine Rice, Rainer Trost, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

11.
0:00
1:05

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Christine Rice, Magdalena Kozená, Rainer Trost, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Christine Rice, Lisa Milne, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Christine Rice, Lisa Milne, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Lisa Milne, Rainer Trost, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Lisa Milne, Hillevi Martinpelto, Magdalena Kozená, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Magdalena Kozená, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Hillevi Martinpelto, John Relyea, Christine Rice, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Christine Rice, Hillevi Martinpelto, John Relyea, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Magdalena Kozená, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Magdalena Kozená, Christine Rice, Lisa Milne, John Relyea, Hillevi Martinpelto, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, Mark Hindley

Total Playing Time 1:02:17

CD 2: Mozart: La clemenza di Tito

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
La clemenza di Tito, K.621

Vocal Material arranged by Sir Charles Mackerras

Act 2

Christine Rice, Magdalena Kozená, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Christine Rice, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Magdalena Kozená, Hillevi Martinpelto, John Relyea, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Magdalena Kozená, Hillevi Martinpelto, John Relyea, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, Mark Hindley

John Relyea, Rainer Trost, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

John Relyea, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Rainer Trost, Christine Rice, John Relyea, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Christine Rice, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Magdalena Kozená, John Relyea, Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Rainer Trost, Magdalena Kozená, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Magdalena Kozená, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Rainer Trost, John Relyea, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Hillevi Martinpelto, Lisa Milne, Christine Rice, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Lisa Milne, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Hillevi Martinpelto, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, Mark Hindley

Rainer Trost, Hillevi Martinpelto, Charles Mackerras, Ronald Schneider, David Watkin

Rainer Trost, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Magdalena Kozená, Rainer Trost, Hillevi Martinpelto, Christine Rice, Lisa Milne, John Relyea, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, Mark Hindley

Total Playing Time 1:05:15

This new recording comes with the advantage of Charles Mackerras's stylish conducting, and a commanding performance of the central role of Sextus by Magdalena Kozená. Her singing of the great Act II rondo 'Deh per questo istante' is deeply affecting. The smaller parts of Sextus's sister Servilia, his friend Annius and the prefect Publius are well sung, too, by Lisa Milne, Christine Rice and John Relyea.

. . . the cast is exceptionally fine. Ko¿ená's limpidly sung Sesto -- ravishing in 'Parto, parto' and the even more beautiful 'Deh, per questo istante solo' -- is up there with Berganza (Kertész and Böhm), Minton, and Graham on Paris DVD, an immaculately sung and touching performance . . . and Lisa Milne has a timbre uncannily similar to that of Lucia Popp, the benchmark in the role of Servilia. Their little duet is one of the loveliest on disc . . . It is Mackerras's wise and wonderful conducting -- truly majestic . . . that makes this issue an essential acquisition for "Clemenza"-spotters (like me!). His decorations of the vocal lines have become more discreet over the years and, stylishly executed by his singers, they give his "Clemenza" a distinctive quality which marks it out from the rest . . . excellent release.

The result here is extremely satisfying, already placing this new set high among currently available recordings of the piece. This is certainly, too, an even and impressive cast . . . Hillevi Martinpelto has the necessary energy and attack for the proud and unscrupulous Vitellia, while Magdalena Kozená's richly imagined interpretation emphasises the depths of Sesto's divided personal loyalties. Rainer Trost's clean and eloquent singing makes Tito himself into more of a three-dimensional character than usual, while Christine Rice (Annio), Lisa Milne (Servilia) and John Relyea (Publio) are all expressive and technically inimpeachable. Mackerras also presents the work, rightly, as a fully dramatic one, and the opera's reputation as a late Mozartian masterpiece is entirely vindicated.

There are unequivocally good things on offer: Mark Padmore's smooth-toned Tito has unforced purity, his arias are eminently civilised and his two accompanied recitatives make the Emperor's anguish and inner conflict regarding his treasonous friend's fate transparent. He brings agile coloratura and a sweet top A flat to 'Se all'impero, amici Dei'. Alexandrina Pendatchanska's dark timbre, dramatic conviction and ambitious ornaments in 'Deh se piacer mi vuoi' make her villainous Vitellia formidable . . . There are few Mozartians of Mackerras's standard: every aria, ensemble, march, chorus and recitative is steeped in absorbing Mozartian rhetoric, colour, personality and style. There are no traces of artificiality or idiosyncrasy. Period bass and timpani lend precision and idiomatic colour, and the modern strings and woodwind are stirring, balanced and lyrical. From the first few minutes of the stirring yet immaculately judged overture, he delivers something special . . . [Rainer Trost's] richly textured coloratura and Mackerras's flowing grandeur are marvellous companions in the opera's jubilant final chorus . . . Hillevi Martinpelto's seductuve Vitellia makes Sesto's obsesseion thoroughly convincing: 'Deh, se piacer mi vuoi' has the perfect synthesis of power, passion and purity . . . She magnificently conveys Vitellia's voyage from vulnerability to penitent heroism in 'Ecco il punto', and follows it with a radiant 'Non più di fiori' . . .
However, Magdalena Kozená's Sesto steals the show. She is an outstanding Mozart singer; she sings her heart out in the dynamic accompanied recitative 'Oh Dei, che smania è questa' . . . and her arias are consistently marvellous.

Partly translated:
Magdalena Kozená ist eine überragende Mozartsängerin. Sie singt die Arien einfach herrlich.

Rainer Trost . . . is a dignified Titus . . . Best of all is Magdalena Ko¿ená, in glorious voice as Sextus, and making the scena ¿Deh, per questo istante¿ the poignant climax of the whole opera . . . if you want the grandeur and nobility of ancient Rome, go for Mackerras.

For those who attended Washington National Opera's recent production of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito" and discovered that the music really wasn't the hurried hackwork it has sometimes been called, there is a new recording that will only deepen your admiration . . . Sir Charles Mackerras, a Mozartean of the most tender and lyrical order, leads a strong cast ¿ tenor Rainer Trost, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená and sopranos Hillevi Martinpelto and Lisa Milne ¿ and coaxes bright, firm and vigorous playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus in a three-CD set from Deutsche Grammophon.

. . . a finely paced, and beautifully executed performance that captures the dignity and ebb and flow of the drama . . . glorious singing.

. . . an erster Stelle [ist] der Dirigent zu rühmen. Mackerras bietet, bei radikaler Kürzung der nicht von Mozart stammenden Secco-Rezitative, eine zupackend dramatische Lesart. Klanglich eindrucksvoll und stilistisch überzeugend spielt er mit dem mit Naturhörnern und -trompeten versehenen formidablen Scottish Chamber Orchestra und dem exzellenten Chor den Widerspruch zwischen Pomp und Pathos des "offiziellen" Gepränges am Hof des römischen Kaisers und den zutiefst anrührenden privaten Qualen der Akteure auch im Instrumentalen aus . . . die Neuaufnahme [bietet] eine illustre Sängerbesetzung . . . Die mit beeindruckenden Tiefen ausgestattete . . . Hillevi Martinpelto ist eine expressive, ihre private Hölle glaubhaft ausdrückende Vitellia. Superb und berührend ist der Annio von Christine Rice, nicht minder die Servilia von Lisa Milne, profund der Publio von John Relyea. Überragend, auch verglichen mit den (sehr guten) Vorgängerinnen anderer Aufnahmen, ist Magdalena Kozenás Sesto in den beiden leidenschaftlich und brillant gesungenen Arien, auch in allen ihren sonstigen Beiträgen in den Ensembles und Rezitativen. Sie vermag mit schlanker, modulationsfähiger Stimme berückend schön zu singen und dennoch den Eindruck zu vermitteln, daß Sestos Nerven ständig blank liegen.

Ihr . . . Mezzosopran eignet sich hervorragend für diese Hosenrolle. Kontrolliertes Vibrato, klangschönes Piano und Stilgefühl prädestinieren die Sängerin geradezu für Mozart . . . Stilistisch macht dem Dirigenten niemand etwas vor, das zeigen die differenzierte Orchesterbehandlung ebenso wie die geschmackvollen Verzierungen, die er seine Solisten ausführen lässt.

Wie Mackerras die Abstufungen der Holzbläser untereinander hinbekommt, ist meisterlich. Das Fagott wird beglückend aus seiner vermeintlich zweiten Reihe hervorgeholt, Oboen und Klarinetten treffen sich oft zu herrlichen Dialogen. Es scheint, als würde das Orchester ständig ein Lächeln bereithalten, denn dieser Mozart klingt wunderbar schwere-, aber weiß Gott nicht substanzlos . . . Der Publio dieser Einspielung, John Relyea, ist deutlich energischer, direkter aber auch kantiger. Vor allem in den Rezitativen, aber auch im "Tardi s'avvede" zeigt er, dass bei Mozart nie eine Note ereignislos ist. Sein Gesang trägt stets ein virtuelles Ausrufezeichen in sich. Dagegen kommt Christine Rice als Annio ohne ein solches aus. Ihr Vortrag hat etwas natürlich Schwebendes. Sie leuchtet quasi von innen. Ihr zarter, lyrischer, flexibler Ton trägt den Hörer insbesondere durch selige Momente wie in "Torna di Tito". Um Nuancen feiner, in ihrer dynamischen Ausdruckskraft vielleicht sogar eine Spur farbiger singt Lisa Milne die Servilia. Ihrer Arie im zweiten Akt verleiht sie vom Beginn des "S'altro che lacrime" über das energische "La crudeltà" bis zum finalen "non gioverà" einen wunderbaren Spannungsbogen. Sie zaubert sich durch diese zweiundfünfzig Takte mit herrlicher Noblesse . . . Magdalena Kozená . . . stellt ihr dramatisches Vermögen nie plakativ zur Schau, sie reduziert und erreicht dadurch viel, etwa wenn sie in "Deh per questo" das "il tuo sdegno" erst bei der Wiederholung mit glaubhaft energischem Nachdruck singt. Kozená trägt nie zu dick auf und bewahrt sich dadurch vor allem in der Höhe eine fein kalkulierte gestalterische Qualität. Sie besitzt die nötige Ruhe und Prägnanz, um diese Partie glaubhaft auszufüllen. Kozená braucht keine Tricks, um aufwühlende Momente mit Erregung zu füllen wie im Allegro assai von "Parto, ma tu ben mio".

Hier beweist der erfahrene Sir Charles Mackerras sein Gespür für repräsentativen Auftritt und vitales Musizieren . . . Mackerras hält alle und alles unter Spannung. Der Klang ist dicht und durchhörbar zugleich.

Die Neueinspielung der "Clemenza di Tito" durch Sir Charles Mackerras bietet eine weitere, nicht zu verpassende Gelegenheit, das Werk für sich neu zu entdecken. Mackerras arbeitet mit dem Scottish Chamber Orchestra und dessen Chor und hat prominenteste Solistinnen verpflichtet, darunter Magdalena Kozená als Sesto . . . Magdalena Kozenás Sesto kann unvergleichlich flehen. In der Arie Nr. 9 "Parto, ma tu ben mio" streichelt sie im Wechselspiel mit der Klarinette zärtlich ihre Töne und imponiert mit leuchtendem Pianissimo, im Accompagnato Nr. 11 zündet sie ein Feuerwerk wechselnder Stimmungen. Christine Rice verleiht dem Annio Wärme und Natürlichkeit, John Relyea dem Publio Autorität. Und die Servilia von Lisa Milne steigert sich zu großer Dringlichkeit, als sie in Nr. 21 ("S'altro che lacrime") der Vitellia ins Gewissen redet. Rainer Trost als Titus verfügt über einen disziplinierten, wandlungsfähigen, sanft strahlenden Tenor . . . Mackerras erzielt Wirkung nicht durch Tempo und Dramatik um jeden Preis, sondern durch Tempo- wie Farbschattierungen. Dies ist keine "straffe" Version der Oper, sondern eine, die dem introvertierten Charakter des Werks Rechnung trägt.

Der sonst übliche Primat der Oberstimmen existiert nicht, jedes Instrument ist hier deutlich zu hören. Unterstützt wird dieser Ansatz von der hervorragenden Leistung der Tontechniker: Die räumliche Abbildung ist vorzüglich, sowohl was die Höhenstaffelung der Instrumente angeht als auch die Darstellung in der Breite.

[Magdalena Kozená] gelingt ein sehr sensibles, genaues Porträt des Sesto. Die halsbrecherischen Koloraturen in "Parto, parto" sind selten so präzis und perlend zu hören.

Eine erfreuliche Bereicherung ist der kernige, markante Bass von John Relyea in der meist vernachlässigten Nebenrolle des Publio.

Ganz anders das Scottish Chamber Orchestra, das unter Sir Charles Mackerras mit brachialen Blechbläser-Akzenten, "sprechenden" Pausen, plappernden oder seufzenden Holzbläsern, dynamischen Streicher-Spannungsbögen bereits in der Ouvertüre Geschichten erzählt -- auf der zweiten "Titus"-Aufnahme dieser Tage, die bei der Deutschen Grammophon erschienen ist. Das Orchester als eine Art antiker Chor, der den Sängern auf der Nase herum tanzt, ihre Seelenabgründe aufdeckt, erklärt. Magdalena Ko¿ená gibt den Sextus mit wunderschön rundem, aber zartem Sopran . . . Die Vitellia der stimmlich brillanten Hillevi Martinpelto ist hier mehr einfühlsam-schmeichlerische Kokotte als Intrigen-Zicke. Titus¿ Milde scheint abgefärbt zu haben -- so mohair-weich gleichmäßig wie Rainer Trost ihn singt, kann man sich ihm kaum entziehen.

. . . Mackerras [wartet] mit einer glanzvollen Sängerparade auf . . . Magdalena Ko¿ená gibt einen schönen, ebenmäßigen . . . Sesto . . .

. . . Magdalena Ko¿ená zeichnet . . . ein sensibles, liebevolles Porträt des Sesto . . .

. . . le chef investit chaque détail orchestral, donne un sens à toutes les ruptures rythmiques, dont il tente de tirer de puissants effects de contraste . . . Rien à redire au couple formé par l'Annio de Christine Rice et la Servilia de Lisa Milne, deux belles voix au charme typiquement mozartien . . . il y a Kozená, son timbre si chaleureux, sa présence fémissante.

Le Sesto de Kozená . . . ne constitue guère une surprise, tant il confirme nos meilleurs espoirs. La belle Tchèque le traverse d'un pas dansant, sans toucher terre, s'inscrivant d'emblée aux côtés de Berganza et de Bartoli parmi les plus belles titulaires au disque.

Puede decirse que . . . [Magdalena Kozená] dota al personaje [Sesto] de una sugerente y velada ambigüedad, en unas ocasiones turbia y en otras de una luminosa simetría, en consonancia con el espíritu racional de la única época en la que un drama así pudiera tener su encaje. Rainer Trost es un Tito de extraordinaria ecuanimidad tanto en lo vocal como en la consistencia psicológica que consigue conferir al emperador romano . . . He aquí sin lugar a dudas una versión histórica que se convertirá en indispensable para comprender esta partitura mozartiana.

La versión del octogenario Sir Charles Mackerras al frente de un espectacular elenco de solistas y de «su» magnífica Scottish Chamber Orchestra es una pura delicia. ... Como era de esperar, el Sextus de Magdalena Kozená es una auténtica maravilla, impresionante en el «Parto, parto ... » y emocionante e intimista, conmovedor, en esa maravilla de aria que es el rondó «Deh, per questo istante solo ... » ... En suma, una recomendación plena ... Un regalo para los mozartianos.
LA CLEMENZA DI TITO

"A true opera"

In July of 1791, the last year of his life, Mozart was already well advanced in writing a Singspiel, The Magic Flute, for a Viennese popular theatre when he was offered the opportunity to compose another opera, this one an opera seria. The commission came from the impresario Domenico Guardasoni, who lived in Prague and who had been charged with providing a new work to mark the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia. The ceremony would take place on 6 September; Guardasoni had been approached about the opera in June. There was not much room to manoeuvre.

In a contract dated 8 July, Guardasoni promised that he would engage a castrato "of leading quality" (this seems to have mattered more than who wrote the opera); that he would "have the libretto caused to be written . . . and . . . to be set to music by a distinguished maestro"; that he would guarantee "two new changes of scenery" as well as new costumes and so on. But knowing that time was tight, Guardasoni had a get-out clause: if he failed to secure a new text, he would resort to La Clemenza di Tito, a libretto written more than half a century earlier by Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782). La Clemenza di Tito had already been set by nearly 40 composers; the first had been Antonio Caldara, in 1734. Among later settings was Gluck's, from 1752; there would be three further settings after 1791.

Guardasoni and Mozart had discussed the possibility of a new opera for Prague two years earlier. Mozart's music was well loved in the city, where Don Giovanni had its first performance in 1787 (that commission, too, had probably come from Guardasoni). But Mozart had not been Guardasoni's first port of call for La Clemenza di Tito. Instead he had approached Antonio Salieri, who, as the most distinguished composer of Italian opera in Vienna, would provide exactly the lustre which Guardasoni sought. But Salieri was too busy looking after the affairs of the Court Theatre, and he declined the commission.

Guardasoni's experience of Mozart's work on Don Giovanni convinced him that the younger composer was more than capable of working to the tightest deadline; that and his popularity in Prague made Mozart the obvious second choice. And with prestigious commissions drying up in Vienna, Mozart had no hesitation in accepting Guardasoni's offer, even if it meant putting aside his work on The Magic Flute. How could he resist when Guardasoni offered him twice the fee he was used to receiving for an opera in Vienna?

Although opera seria was by no means a defunct idiom, taste and musical convention had changed in the years since the first La Clemenza di Tito, and modifications would be required if the new Clemenza were not to seem outmoded. In its Metastasian form, opera seria abided by several more or less strict rules: the principal set pieces would not be ensembles but solo arias or, occasionally, a duet, although a final chorus might bring the opera to a joyous conclusion. Almost invariably, a character would leave the stage after singing an aria.

These conventions had worked in the past, but modern sensibilities demanded a more flexible structure, and particularly they required more ensembles, at which Mozart excelled. In addition Metastasio's libretto as it stood was too long, too nakedly aggrandizing to be accepted in ostensibly more enlightened times. Metastasio wrote La Clemenza to honour Emperor Charles VI; Caldara's setting had its premiere in Vienna in 1734. For his subject, the librettist turned to the life of Titus Vespasianus, Roman emperor from AD 79-81. Titus could be seen as the exemplar of the benign, enlightened and moderate ruler whose modern counterpart, by implication, was Charles VI, and, by extension, Emperor Leopold. Did Mozart perhaps perceive a kinship with Sarastro in the opera he had been forced to put aside, The Magic Flute?

Guardasoni approached Caterino Mazzolà to make the necessary modifications. Mazzolà had recently been appointed Vienna's court poet after the dismissal of Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart's librettist for three of the operas that had done so much to change operatic taste: Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. Mazzolà may have been no da Ponte, but he could be relied on to do a good job in the short time available. He simplified the narrative, turning three acts into two and cutting about a third of Metastasio's text. Only seven of the original 25 arias remained, to be supplemented by four new arias as well as by several duets, trios, choruses and finales for soloists and chorus. Some of the discarded recitative was re-incorporated into ensembles and arias; all of the changes served to make the opera faster moving, more focussed, more psychological, in a word, more modern.

Mozart was almost certainly involved in detailed discussion about the changes, and seems to have thoroughly approved of the results: in his work-catalogue, he described La Clemenza with some pride as "opera seria . . . ridotto à vera opera dal Sig.re Mazzolà" ("reduced [or stripped down] to a true opera by Signor Mazzolà"). We should not be misled by that "ridotto" into thinking that Mozart in any way disparaged the circumstances or nature of La Clemenza.

Not the least of his considerations was the hope that, if he succeeded in impressing Leopold and his court, there was a chance of further employment in that quarter. Unfortunately, Leopold was known to favour opera in the Italian style, rather than in the more Germanic manner for which Mozart was best known (that is one reason why Salieri had been first choice to write Clemenza). We do not know what the emperor thought of the opera written in his honour, but his wife, the empress Maria Louisa, is reputed to have dismissed it as "porcheria tedesca": "German swinery".

The premiere that impressed the Empress so little took place in Prague on 6 September 1791, a few hours after Leopold's coronation. The role of Tito was taken by Antonio Baglioni, who had sung Don Ottavio at the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague in 1787; Maria Marchetti-Fantozzi sang Vitellia, while the role of Sesto was taken by the castrato Domenico Bedini. This being a coronation performance, admission was free, and we can perhaps imagine that the audience was more interested in the occasion than in the opera.

Certainly the reception seems to have been lukewarm, although once the public was admitted to later performances, the response became more enthusiastic. Back in Vienna, Mozart returned to work on The Magic Flute, which had its first performance on 30 September. About a week later, Mozart wrote to his wife (who was taking the waters in Baden): "It's the oddest thing, but the same evening that my new opera [Magic Flute] was given here for the first time with such applause, Tito had its last performance in Prague, also with extraordinary applause".

In the immediate aftermath of Mozart's death, the work flourished (it was the first Mozart opera to be performed in London, in 1806), but after its initial popularity, it lay neglected for well over a century. It is only in the last few decades that taste has allowed La Clemenza back into the repertoire, and then somewhat grudgingly, as if it were a work not entirely worthy of Mozart's genius. Certainly there is one piece of glaring evidence of haste on Mozart's part. Although he worked fast, he fell ill shortly after arriving in Prague a few days before the opera's first performance. As a result he was forced to entrust composition of the secco recitatives (but not the accompanied recitatives) to someone else, probably his student, companion and copyist Franz Xaver Süssmayr (who would later complete Mozart's Requiem). Unsurprisingly these passages lack genuine Mozartian fluency, but there is no evidence that Mozart found them wanting. Whether he would have retained them if he had had the opportunity to revisit the opera is a matter of speculation.

The secco recitatives apart, La Clemenza shows Mozart's genius in full flow. The comparatively light scoring, once taken as further evidence of a rushed job, in fact allows the musical action to breathe naturally. If modern sensibilities find Tito's semi-divine clemency hard to swallow, that is hardly Mozart's fault. Indeed, some modern stage productions take delight in cutting Tito down to size, rendering him all too human: how can we trust a man who, in the course of a single day, contemplates marriage with three different women? Don Giovanni himself could hardly better Tito in that department.

In any case, we are more likely to find ourselves transfixed by Vitellia's emotional vacillations than by Tito's marmoreal beneficence. Thwarted if not wronged, she is sister to Anna and Elvira in Don Giovanni, cousin to Fiordiligi and Dorabella in Così; and nothing any of those women sing is more beautiful than her aria "Non più di fiori", with its captivating basset horn obbligato. At the opera's premiere, the basset horn, like the clarinet accompanying Sesto's "Parto, parto", was played by Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart wrote the Clarinet Concerto which he completed barely a month after the first performance of La Clemenza di Tito.

In Vitellia, Mozart created a genuinely complex character, and she is the opera's dramatic motor, most notably in her relationship with Sesto, whose music all but matches Vitellia's for beauty. These are the figures who fired Mozart's imagination and, despite the opera's title, they have more arias than Tito, or indeed any other character. Even their recitatives are more telling: in a few well-chosen phrases, Sesto's accompanied recitative "Oh Dei, che smania è questa", for example, captures all the contradictory emotions that assail her. It leads directly into the Act I finale, in which a sequence of characters enters one by one, each voicing anxiety about the disaster that they believe is about to engulf them. They, and by extension we, are convinced that Tito is dead, but while they weep and wail, the orchestra gently subsides, as if in a faint. Only Mozart could have brought this tumultuous scene to such an ambiguous climax.

Given that the secco recitatives are not by Mozart, we may tend to think that La Clemenza di Tito is an imperfect, even an unfinished Mozart opera, but in a performance which captures its beauty and its very particular drama, it requires no special pleading. The present recording coincided with a performance at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, just three months before Sir Charles Mackerras's 80th birthday. Reviewing that Usher Hall concert in The Guardian (London), Tim Ashley wrote: "The conductor was Charles Mackerras, second to none as a Mozartian and astonishing in his delineation of a world in which the pomp of imperialism hides the personal agonies that can destroy lives." In 2006, the 250th anniversary year of his birth, Mozart clearly remains a thoroughly contemporary composer.

Nick Kimberley
12/2005