Show artwork for The Clemency of Titus

The Clemency of Titus The Clemency of Titus

Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Conducted by James Conlon

March 224, 2019

A new LA Opera production

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Company premiere! A new production of Mozart’s rarely performed final masterpiece.

"Spectacularly imaginative...this Clemenza was distinguished by the wall-to-wall quality of its singing, down to the smallest roles."

Simon WilliamsOpera News

Revenge and romance set Rome on fire! The most powerful civilization in the world falls vulnerable to the machinations of power players seeking glory.

Read the synopsis

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Place and time: Rome, the Year of the Consulship of Titus and Vespasianus (A.D. 79)

Act I
Vitellia, daughter of the late emperor Vitellius (who had been brutally executed by Titus's father), had hoped that her position in Roman court society would be cemented if Titus would take her as a bride, but he has instead chosen Berenice, a Jewish princess, to be his consort. Enraged by this rejection, she conspires with Sesto, a young nobleman with whom she is having a sexual affair, to murder him, even though Titus is one of Sesto’s dearest friends. But when Annio, another of Sesto’s friends, arrives with the sudden news that Titus has sent Berenice back to Jerusalem, Vitellia quickly tells Sesto to delay carrying out her wishes, hoping Titus will have come to his senses and choose her as his Empress. Sesto questions why he would let his sexual desire for a woman overpower his brotherly love for his friend the Emperor.

Annio then further shares the news that he has asked Servilia, Sesto’s sister, to marry him and that she has accepted. Sesto is delighted that Annio has found love in such a beautiful and kind soul. Annio needs only Titus’s approval for the wedding plans to move forward.

In the Temple of Jupiter, the people gather to hail their beloved leader. Priests and priestesses consecrate the golden tributes that have been collected from the Roman provinces. Publio, Titus’s Chief Counsellor, advises that the gold should be used to build a monument to the greatness of Titus. Considering the recent disaster in Pompeii, where many thousands have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed by a volcanic eruption, Titus instead orders that the tax revenues should be used to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of the natural disaster.

As the people recede, Sesto seizes the moment to ask Titus if he will allow Annio to marry his sister Servilia. But before he can do so, Titus announces his intention to marry Servilia himself—he, too, finds her beauty, charm and wit to be irresistible. Annio is heartbroken, but quickly decides to not reveal himself as a rival suitor, instead believing that the most loving thing to do is to release her from her pledge so that she may ascend the throne and live life in splendor as Empress of Rome. Titus, unaware that this happy news has left Annio heartbroken, invites Sesto to join him for a light meal as he extols the virtues of compassion and looking after the welfare of others. Sesto squirms, knowing that his own loyalty has been under stress from Vitellia’s manipulations.

The scene cuts to Annio and Servilia meeting—he reveals to her that he can no longer call her “his love” but must instead refer to her as “his Empress.” She flatly refuses to accept the invitation of Titus’s proposal, saying that her heart lies only with her first love and that she is willing to sacrifice any superficial glory for the depths of true love.

Later that afternoon in the Throne Room, Publio presents Titus with a list of people accused of conspiring against him. Titus dismisses this as palace intrigue and proclaims that he doesn’t feel threatened at all, but rather feels sorry for his enemies who do not appreciate his benevolent character. Servilia interrupts them, imploring that Titus not choose her as his bride. Even though she is truly honored, she explains that her first love is Annio—while she will ultimately respect the Emperor’s wishes, she thinks he should know the situation before proceeding. Titus is delighted by her honesty, saying that he wishes everyone who surrounded his throne would be so transparent in their feelings.

Vitellia arrives expecting to find Titus on the throne, but instead discovers Servilia there. Servilia, released from Titus’s bonds, tells Vitellia that there may still be hope that Titus will choose her. Vitellia assumes that Servilia is mocking her and is enraged at this seemingly double humiliation. When Sesto arrives to find out what has happened, Vitellia doubles down on her quest for revenge against Titus. Sesto, whose loyalty is impossibly divided, ultimately agrees to carry out the murderous plot against his best friend; Vitellia’s powers of manipulation over him are simply too strong to resist. Sesto runs off, determined to set fire to the capital and assassinate Titus during the ensuing chaos.

Publio and Annio have both been searching for Vitellia to bring her the news that Titus would like to marry Vitellia after all! Wanting to run after Sesto and once again call off the horrific attack that is about to be unleashed, she is instead frozen by fear and panic, which is mistaken for astonishment and joy by those around her.

Meanwhile, Sesto seeks refuge in the temple, imploring the gods to give him a sign about how to proceed. Just when he decides that he cannot carry out the murderous plot, he realizes it is too late—the plans he had made with the other conspirators have already been put into place, and Rome is on fire!

As terror rages in the streets, news arrives that Titus has been seen murdered in the streets. Sesto nearly confesses to the crime but remains quiet at Vitellia’s urging. All of Rome mourns the destruction of their great city and their revered leader.

Act II
As Rome lies in smoldering ruins, Annio arrives with news that Titus is, in fact, unharmed. Sesto admits his role in the assassination attempt and that he must immediately flee Rome. Annio says it would be better to confess the crime and ask for clemency. Vitellia appears and gives the opposite advice; selfishly, she fears that if Sesto confesses his crime that he will also implicate her in the conspiracy, clearly ruining her chances of ascending the throne, and probably much worse.

Publio interrupts them and arrests Sesto, saying that the man who was killed wasn’t Titus but was instead a fellow conspirator Lentulo, who has implicated Sesto in the conspiracy.

As Vitellia laments her fate, Annio and Servilia remind her that she is soon to ascend the throne. A gnawing sense of guilt is ripping her apart—how can she marry the man she tried to murder? As Vitellia bursts into tears, Servilia says that tears are useless if they aren’t backed up by some actions that truly show remorse.

News has spread among the people of Rome that Titus has survived. They pay homage to him, for which he is most grateful.

Titus is anxious to know the outcome of the trial of Sesto, certain that his friend will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. Publio warns that those who are the most faithful find betrayal impossible to believe. Annio pleads for mercy on Sesto’s behalf, appealing to Titus’s long-time devotion to his best friend. Titus is unable to bring himself to the point of signing Sesto’s death warrant.

Sesto is brought before Titus, who tries to find a way to pardon Sesto somehow. But Sesto, believing himself worthy of punishment, refuses to show remorse. Sesto is afraid if he reveals any more, he risks everything. Titus even asks Sesto to address him as his friend, not his Emperor, hoping for honesty and openness. Sesto refuses, and instead asks for one last kiss, before he is lead to his public execution.

Titus grapples with his conflicting emotions. His ideal world is one of mercy and forgiveness, yet he feels compelled to seek revenge for the way his most beloved friend has turned against him. This deceit and treachery are as hurtful as any sword could be. Finding his inner moral strength, Titus resolves that as Emperor he doesn’t have to follow anyone’s orders. He can do what he knows deeply in his heart and mind is right. He refuses to sign the death warrant and recommits to his ideals that clemency, brotherhood and forgiveness must be the guiding principles of his empire.
Vitellia struggles under the weight of her hidden guilt. She feels compelled to reveal her role in the conspiracy, yet she grapples with the fallout from the confession. She will never be loved again, never marry, and never become Empress.

Meanwhile, the people gather for the display of public execution. It’s a festive atmosphere—they have endured so much and are eager to witness the gruesome executions that mark the end of their suffering. In the preamble to Titus’s verdict, it appears as if he is about to confirm Sesto’s imminent death. At the very last moment, Vitellia loudly confesses her role in the crimes. She believes herself to be the guiltiest of them all, for even though she did not actually carry out any of the violence, she was the mastermind behind the entire plot.

Astonished at this revelation, Titus muses that anyone would think the stars were conspiring against him to bring out the worst of his character. His inner moral compass can weather these storms, however. His deep, steadfast belief in the power of clemency to resolve human conflicts can withstand anything. Sesto, relieved to be pardoned, reaffirms his friendship. Titus asks the gods to cut short his days if ever the welfare of Rome stops being his primary concern.

Synopsis by Thaddeus Strassberger


Russell Thomas
Guanqun Yu
Elizabeth DeShong
Janai Brugger
Taylor Raven
James Creswell

Creative Team

James Conlon
Director / Scenery
Thaddeus Strassberger
Mattie Ullrich
JAX Messenger
Greg Emetaz
Jeremy Frank

Behind the Curtain: Director & Designer Thaddeus Strassberger with Christopher Koelsch

New production made possible with generous support from The Carol and Warner Henry Production Fund for Mozart Operas; GRoW @ Annenberg; and The Emanuel Treitel Senior Citizen Fund.

Artwork for The Clemency of Titus
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