»Götter, wenn zum Regieren ein hartes Herz nötig ist, nehmt mir entweder die Macht oder gebt mir ein anderes Herz.«
Composed in 18 days and premiered on the 6th of September of 1791, „La Clemenza di Tito“ was Mozart´s last opera before he died on the 5th of December that very same year. As usually happens with final works, this opera was regarded as an inferior effort, for everyone praises the ingenious music but the plot has always been the subject of delicate contempt.
The libretto, adapted by Caterino Mazzolà, was based on a former textbook by Pietro Metastasio from 1734. Its central character, Emperor Tito, has been the source of all controversy, for he forgives everyone around him, which has been seen as an unusual and incomprehensible behavior for an emperor.
When the woman he decides to marry tells him that she loves someone else, he forgives her, when someone admits having attempted against his life – the ultimate crime – he shows mercifulness and so on and so forth. He says, that if the world wishes to accuse him of anything, it can charge him with showing too much mercy rather than with having a revengeful heart. As a re- conciliator, he wants to rule without victims. In the end, he finds himself completely alone.
Some have read Tito´s mildness as a revolutionary attitude offering a new perspective, one of forgiveness, against the vicious circle of violence and brutality taking place during the Ancient Regime. Others, less positive, have classified Tito´s amnesty acts as a feint, as if he would only forgive so that the people are touched and he continues to rule, and this would make him a sort of tragic hero clinging on to an epoch due to to be over. On the contrary, there are also those who have pointed his ability to forgive as a sign that he is only human, no longer invested with the act of forgiving through a sacred higher power, thus stressing a secular and progressive aspect to the plot in syntony with the forthcoming Enlightenment.
I happen to find all this very interesting. On the one hand, who is to say that Mozart wasn´t only fulfilling a commission, his interest being the music in itself and not the plot. I sometimes think that narratives are overestimated – but one would have to research more to find it out. Second, what is interesting about Tito´s character is that one cannot decide if his idealism is either good or bad. Or perhaps that´s the point, that we are left to judge if standing alone is an obligatory price to pay for one´s idealism or, a definitive sign that it makes absolutely no sense to be good-hearted in this world.
One thing is for sure, we are forced here to reflect if our traditional values are still operational or not; we are asked if revenge is a good strategy; if one should stick to one´s ideals passionately (which would justify revenge) or, instead choose not to disturb nor destroy or as Tito, to reconciliate; we are left to wonder the price to pay for one´s own idealism; if it is a good strategy, even if it sometimes implies uttermost loneliness.