Just a few months before his death, Mozart, desperate as always for money, completed La Clemenza di Tito in a style he hadn't used for a long time, to a libretto that had been worked to death by others.
On the face of it, we might expect disappointment, however this superb Metropolitan Opera production proves us wrong.
We don't get a cast of thousands – this is a cameo production, but the relatively small cast is virtually flawless.
Elina Garanca, the Latvian mezzo soprano, in a "trousers role", as Sesto has a luminous presence and a golden voice which in her two major arias, floats in tension against a teasing clarinet – unforgettably beautiful.
As Tito, Giuseppi Filanotti convinces us of his integrity and his generosity, both severely tested when Senso is manipulated by a vengeful Vitellia into attempting his assassination. Technically his tenor voice is sometimes thin in the higher registers, but is mostly melodic and engaging.
Barbara Frittoli as the conniving and vacillating Vitellia captures her ambition, her jealousy, her rage at rejection, and her willingness to risk all in the end to save her lover.
There is not a weak link in this stellar cast.
The set is simple and effective, and the glimpses behind the scenes are fascinating. I love the interviews with the cast members, and thought that these added even more than usually to our enjoyment of the opera.
Harry Bicket's specialist knowledge of the period sits lightly on his energetic and celebratory conducting of the wonderful Metropolitan orchestra.
I approached La Clemenza di Tito with reservations, and left a convert.
I have rarely witnessed more enthusiastic and more merited applause at the end of a Metropolitan Opera performance.