A bit of a cheat as I haven’t been able to listen to any music all day for today’s Aria For … ends my day instead of starting it.
And what better way to end the day than with Mozart’s final burst of genius in already tired genre – opera seria – with one of the greatest singers ever, Dame Janet Baker.
I find something quite ironic that having eschewed the traditional world of courtly patronage, his penultimate opera was for the epitome of aristocratic life – the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia in 1791.
La Clemenza di Tito is more than a swansong to the genre. Mozart had spent his early life writing great opera seria – Mitridate, re di Ponto, Lucio Silla and Idomeneo – but there is a nobility and breadth in the music of Tito that is unsurpassed. And I don’t only mean in terms of the solo arias. Marvellous as they are, Mozart deviated from the norm and wrote more than the normal number of excepted ensemble pieces that are beautifully crafted in their own right.
I remember the very first time I heard this opera. Nothing prepared me for this trio just before the closing scene of Act One. Coming straight after the wonderful Parto, ma tu ben mio with its basset horn obbligato, Mozart doesn’t allow the audience to rest and continues to pile on the drama with Vengo … Aspettate … Sesto!
In this tightly written trio we have it all – panic, indecision, misunderstanding and misplaced joy.
Whoosh! Suddenly the dramatic intensity is raised by more than a few notches.
The manic, agitated string writing, the almost breathless, hesitant vocal phrases of Vitellia who cannot work out whether to run after Sesto or not, hints at the potential for a magnificent aria. But when Vitellia is joined by Publio and Annio the magic is made. The pair of them misinterpreting her indecision as joy that she has been chosen as empress by Tito, in stark contrast to her own emotional turmoil, is a musical tour de force
This is, in my mind, one of those perfect moments in Mozart opera that is hard to beat.
And when the trio is performed by the incredible cast of Dame Janet Baker as Vitellia, Robert Lloyd as Publio and the Annio of Frederica von Stade, conducted by Sir Colin Davis then you have, quite simply, perfection. This recording is, by any comparison, the best out there. A superlative cast is conducted with careful attention to detail in a recording that is well paced yet constantly driven forward, beautiful sung and played and always with an eye on the drama contained in the music.
And this trio is just a warm up for the thrilling closing scene with its perfect ensemble and choral writing and, if you listen carefully, more than a hint of the requiem that Mozart had in his head.
What a way to end the day.