Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfgang Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito


Domenico Guardasoni (circa 1731-1806)
Domenico Guardasoni (circa 1731-1806)

On July 8, 1791, Domenico Guardasoni (circa 1731-1806), the newly hired superintendent of the Estates Opera in Prague, was charged with producing an opera on criminally short notice. The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II (Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard; 1747-1792, the brother of the recently deceased Emperor Joseph II) was about to be crowned King of Bohemia, and the Bohemian Estates (the governing body of Bohemia) wanted to create and produce an opera in celebration of the coronation. The opera was to be performed on the day of the coronation, which was scheduled to take place in Prague on September 6, 1791. Superintendent Guardasoni had exactly 2 months to find and hire a librettist and a composer; see the libretto written and the opera composed; hire the singers; build the sets: make the costumes; stage and rehearse the opera; and then perform it for the newly crowned King of Bohemia (who was also the Holy-freaking-Roman Emperor).

Two months.

The contract Guardasoni signed with the Bohemian Estates indicated that he would “engage a castrato of leading quality” and that he would “have the libretto caused to be written and to be set to music by ‘un celebre maestro’”, by “a famous/celebrated maestro.” 

Caterino Tommaso Mazzolà (1745-1806)
Caterino Tommaso Mazzolà (1745-1806)

Guardasoni made a beeline for Vienna, there to engage his librettist and composer. For the librettist he hired Caterino Tommaso Mazzolà (1745-1806), who had recently replaced Lorenzo Da Ponte as the official court poet. Remarkably, for all his phenomenal success in Prague, Wolfgang Mozart was not Guardasoni’s first choice to be the “celebrated maestro” who would compose the opera. Instead, he approached none-other-than the court composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), who was already up to his keister in deadlines. According to Salieri, Guardasoni refused to take “no” for an answer and offered him the gig five times, “brandishing the 200-ducat, 920 gulden fee” in his face. But Salieri did not relent, and it was only then that Guardasoni approached Mozart.

It wasn’t as if Mozart had a lot of free time, either. He was neck-deep in deadlines himself, halfway through composing his opera/singspiel The Magic Flute, which was scheduled to be premiered on September 30, 1791. But Mozart desperately needed the money: his wife Constanze was again pregnant (she would give birth to Franz Xaver Mozart on July 26), and she was once again (as usual?) in ill health and “taking-the-cure” in the nearby spa town of Baden. 

So Mozart said yes.… continue reading, only on Patreon!

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