Spend Saturday morning in Rome

MET to broadcast Mozart’s ‘La Clemenza di Tito’

Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia and Elina Garanca as Sesto in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” taken during a Nov. 13 rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia and Elina Garanca as Sesto in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” taken during a Nov. 13 rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Torn between his best friend and the love of his life, Sesto has a hard decision to make. Vitellia, the embittered daughter of Rome’s late emperor, wants Sesto to assassinate the new emperor, Tito. Rumor has it that the emperor will ask Servilia, not Vitellia, to marry him.

Mozart’s next-to-last-opera, “La Clemenza di Tito” may have the emperor’s name in the title, but the sulfurous relationship between Vitellia and Sesto fuels the plot. This odd tale of hatred, bad communication and mercy was popular during the Enlightenment.

The MET Live in HD will bring the opera to its worldwide audience by live transmission Saturday at Fort Lewis College. With a big screen raised high, there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Tito is Italian for Titus, the emperor who ruled Rome for a short but tumultuous period in the first century of the common era. Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus (39-81 CE) responded to two cataclysmic events with calm deliberation. In 79 CE, when Vesuvius erupted, the volcano destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Titus reacted with compassion. The next year Rome burned, and he remained calm. Both events figure in the opera. His style of leadership made him a hero to his people and the epoch that celebrated Reason.

Mozart was one of many artists who created a work about Titus. In 1791, Mozart got a commission to create an opera for the coronation of Leopold II, King of Bohemia. The subject; Roman Emperor Titus. Mozart co-opted a 1734 libretto and hired a colleague, Caterino Mazzolá, to turn a long string of solos into various ensembles. The result is “Tito.” The MET performance will run a mere three hours instead of five or six, which was the probable length of Antonio Caldara’s 1734 version.

History tells us that Emperor Leopold arrived late for his coronation opera on Sept. 6, 1791. And his empress didn’t appreciate the treatment of her counterpart, the villainess Vitellia. But opera fans, up to 1830 and especially in the last century, have cheered this late Mozart work.

The MET is reviving the spectacular 1984 production created by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. The French director-designer also made a film of the opera in 1991. Set in the ruins of the real Roman Forum, the movie is visually spectacular.

The 2012 MET cast features two pants roles, originally created for castrati singers. Mezzo Elina Garanca will sing Sesto and Kate Lindsey will sing the doggedly loyal Annio. Soprano Barbara Frittoli has the juicy role of the villainess. Soprano Lucy Crowe sings the spunky role of Servilia, and tenor Giuseppe Filianoti rises above it all as Emperor Tito.

The plot has more reversals than a bad mystery novel. Normally I don’t give away endings, but you can count on the emperor dispensing clemency and one other hard-to-believe action in an 18th-century version of a Hollywood ending.

Amid plot twisters and people behaving badly, there are arias and duets that may make you weep. Such is the beauty of the opera Mozart finished just before he completed “The Magic Flute.” Three months after the September premiere of “Tito,” on Dec. 5, 1791, Mozart died at age 35.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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