Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mozart's 'Titus' Is about Great Music and Forgiveness

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mozart's 'Titus' Is about Great Music and Forgiveness

Article excerpt

The fourth and final production of Opera Theatre of St. Louis' 2017 season is Mozart's last opera and Stephen Lord's swan song as music director.

"Titus" (better known as "La Clemenza di Tito," "The Clemency of Titus") was composed in 1791 in about three weeks. Mozart wasn't the first choice of composer; that was Antonio Salieri. But Salieri was too busy, so the commission went to Mozart. Mozart had finished most of "The Magic Flute" and accepted the gig.

Written for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia, it's based on an account in "The Twelve Caesars," by the Roman historian Suetonius. The libretto was a warhorse written by the prolific Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), but it was edited, shortened and much improved by the poet Caterino Mazzol.

The plot is set in motion by Vitellia, whose father, the emperor Vitellio, was deposed by Vespasian, Titus' father. Titus is now emperor. Vitellia seeks revenge and talks Titus' friend Sesto into assassinating him. Sesto dithers but, with accomplices, burns down the Capitol. Sesto and Vitellia confess; Titus pardons them.

It contains some of Mozart's finest arias, including Sesto's "Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio," with a famous accompaniment for basset horn (a clarinet with extra low notes and a darker sound). "Titus" is a showpiece for singers, and that's why Lord chose it.

"I wanted to do a piece that would feature people whose careers I was instrumental in beginning," Lord says, including former Gerdine Young Artists Laura Wilde and Cecelia Hall, and singers whose careers he boosted, like tenor Ren Barbera, who plays Titus. "It's a fitting way to end my tenure as music director here, so we can all reunite as grown-up professionals."

The role of Sesto was written for a castrato. In keeping with historic practice, in which women always sang male roles when suitable castrati weren't available, OTSL has cast Hall, a mezzo-soprano. (The role of Sesto's friend Annio was written for and originally sung by a woman.)

Stephen Lawless directed OTSL's 2008 production of William Walton's "Troilus and Cressida" but says: "I have never, unbelievably, worked with Stephen Lord, who is a conductor I've admired from afar for a long while. I'm absolutely thrilled that I'm doing his last show here; he's a wonderful collaborator-colleague."

Lawless is also pleased to be directing "Titus," which he calls "basically a kind of political thriller: Who shot the emperor? It's short, it's fast-moving, so that's the way we've approached it. I'm overjoyed that St. Louis offered to do it because of the richness of it, the characterizations."

It's his second production of the opera (the first one was seen at Dallas Opera, Minnesota Opera and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden), "and it's always struck me, in a sense because it is an opera about assassination that it has a very curiously American slant to it. …

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