(La Clemenza di Tito—Mozart) by Martin Isepp
As befits a character created to celebrate the coronation of an emperor of the Enlightenment, Mozart makes Tito a noble figure whose music is invariably beautiful and melodic; however, clemenza is a very undramatic virtue and, moreover, Tito's main function in the plot is to be the catalyst for the treachery of others (Sesto, Vitellia, even Servilia, by her decision not to marry him). So the singer's greatest challenge is to make Tito interesting, charismatic, and believable. Throughout the opera his position and his goodness set him apart. In the only ensemble in which he appears (Trio, No. 18) he sings to Sesto Avvicinata (Approach) twice; apart from that, for all three characters, every line is an aside and so there is no real ensemble dramatically. In the Act 2 finale, all the others sing his praise in ensemble, but he sings alone, his isolation as complete as ever. His one dramatic aria (No. 20), ‘If you need a hard heart to rule, either take away my empire or give me another heart’ (Se all'impero …) reaffirms, in its middle section, his noble credo: ‘If I cannot get loyalty by love, I care nothing for loyalty born of fear’, sentiments which explain why the magnificent choruses proclaim his people's love for him.
Tito perhaps suffers more than the other characters from the fact that Mozart was so pressed to complete the opera that he reportedly gave the composition of the secco recitatives to Süssmayr [Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766–1803), the Austrian composer and conductor who assisted in the completion of Mozart's Requiem (K626)]. If he had written them himself, he would no doubt have put a lot of the ‘character’ into them, as was his wont. One can imagine a wonderfully dramatic scene between Tito and Sesto, his greatest friend, after he has been brought in to explain himself at the end of Act 2; but as it is, the exchanges which follow go for very little. However, Tito's two orchestral recitatives are enormously dramatic and go to the heart of the character. Act 2 sc. 7 sees him agonizing over whether to sign Sesto's death warrant, or to give him an opportunity to justify himself. Recitativo No. 25 contains the moment when, just as he is about to pardon Sesto, Vitellia confesses to being the real villain. Tito's anguished outburst, ‘When, you just Gods, will I find one faithful soul?’, can sound almost petulant, but I remember in Nicholas Hytner's production at Glyndebourne (1991), the eloquent fury with which Philip Langridge invested this passage, making it the emotional climax of his performance and causing the citizens of Rome to recoil before him.
Being an opera seria, harking back to an earlier style, there is a good case for extensive ornamentation, which can help all the principal characters to gain more flexibility in the vocal line. However, interpreters of the title role should respect the essential lyricism of his arias and sing the phrases with great simplicity, being careful not to let the ornamentation distort the vocal line. In that way, Tito's character comes over in all its noble integrity.