In a contract dated July 8, 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". The time was tight and 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).
Metastasio's libretto had already been set by nearly 40 composers; the story is based on the life of Roman Emperor Titus, from some brief hints in The Lives of the Caesars by the Roman writer Suetonius, and was elaborated by Metastasio in 1734 for the Italian composer Antonio Caldara. Among later settings was Gluck's, in 1752; there would be three further settings after 1791. Mozart was not the first choice of Guardasoni. 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 and he declined the commission.
The libretto was edited into a more useful state by court poet Caterino Mazzolà, whom, unusually, Mozart credited for his revision in his own catalogue of his compositions. Guardasoni's experience of Mozart's work on Don Giovanni convinced him that the younger composer was more than capable of working on the tightest deadline. Mozart had no hesitation in accepting Guardasoni's offer - how could he resist when Guardasoni offered him twice the fee he was used to receive for an opera in Vienna? Mozart's earliest biographer Niemetschek alleged that the opera was completed in just 18 days, and in such haste that the secco recitatives were supplied by another composer, probably Mozart's pupil Süssmayr. Unfortunately, King Leopold was known to favor opera in the Italian style, rather than the more Germanic manner for which Mozart was known (that is one reason for Salieri being the first choice to write Clemenza). It is not known what Leopold thought of the opera written in his honor, but his wife Maria Louisa is reputed to have dismissed it as porcheria tedesca, or "German swinery."
The opera remained popular for many years after Mozart's death (Stivender, p. 502); it was the first Mozart opera to reach London (His Majesty's Theatre, 1806). But for a long time, Mozart scholars regarded Tito as an inferior effort of the composer. Alfred Einstein in 1945 wrote that it was "customary to speak disparagingly of La clemenza di Tito and to dismiss it as the product of haste and fatigue," and he continues the disparagement to some extent by condemning the characters as puppets — e.g., "Tito is nothing but a mere puppet representing magnanimity" — and claiming that the opera seria was already a moribund form (Einstein, Mozart, pp. 408-11). However, in recent years the opera has undergone something of a reappraisal. Stanley Sadie considers it to show Mozart "responding with music of restraint, nobility and warmth to a new kind of stimulus" (New Grove Mozart, p. 164).
Given the similarity of Mozart's score and plot with some aspects of La clemenza di Scipione by Johann Christian Bach, it is likely that Mozart knew and was influenced by the older composer's work to a certain extent.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, September 6, 1791|
(Conductor: - )
|Vitellia||soprano||Maria M. Fantozzi|
Titus, however, decides to choose Sextus's sister Servilia to be his empress, and orders Annius (Sextus's friend) to bear the message to Servilia. Since Annius and Servilia, unbeknownst to Titus, are in love, this news is very unwelcome to both. Servilia decides to tell Titus the truth but also says that if Titus still insists on marrying her, she will obey. Titus thanks the gods for Servilia's truthfulness and immediately forswears the idea of coming between her and Annius.
In the meantime, however, Vitellia has heard the news about Titus's interest in Servilia and is again boiling with jealousy. She urges Sextus to go assassinate Titus. He agrees, singing one of the opera's most famous arias, "Parto, parto." Almost as soon as he leaves, Annius and the guard Publius arrive to escort Vitellia to Titus, who has now chosen her as his empress. She is torn with feelings of guilt and worry over what she has sent Sextus to do.
Sextus, meanwhile, is at the Capitol wrestling with his conscience as he and his accomplices go about to burn it down. The other characters (except Titus) enter severally and react with horror to the burning Capitol. Sextus reenters and announces that he saw Titus slain, but Vitellia stops him from incriminating himself as the assassin. The others lament Titus in a slow, mournful conclusion to Act I.
He decides to send for Sextus first, attempting to obtain further details about the plot. Sextus takes all the guilt on himself and says he deserves death, so Titus tells him he shall have it and sends him away. But after an extended internal struggle, Titus tears up the execution warrant for Sextus and determines that, if the world wishes to accuse him (Titus) of anything, it can charge him with showing too much mercy rather than with having a revengeful heart.
Vitellia at this time is torn by guilt and decides to confess all to Titus, giving up her hopes of empire in the well-known rondo "Non più di fiori." In the amphitheater, the condemned (including Sextus) are waiting to be thrown to the wild beasts. Titus is about to show mercy when Vitellia offers her confession as the instigator of Sextus's plot. Though shocked, the emperor includes her in the general clemency he offers. The opera concludes with all the subjects praising the extreme generosity of Titus, while he himself asks that the gods cut short his days when he ceases to care for the good of Rome.