Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791) Mitridate, re di Ponto - Opera Seria
in three acts (1770)
King of Pontus … Bruce Ford (tenor)
Sifare, Mitridate’s younger son … Ann Murray (mezzo)
Farnace, Mitridate’s elder son … Jochen Kowalski (counter-tenor)
Aspasia, betrothed to Mitridate … Luba Orgonasova (soprano)
Ismene, daughter of the King of Parthia … Lillian Watson
Arbate, Governor of Nymphaeum … Jacquelyn Fugelle (soprano)
Marzio, Roman tribune … Justin Lavender (tenor)
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Paul Daniel
rec. Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, 20, 22
Stage Director: Graham Vick
Set and Costume Designer: Paul Brown
Lighting Designer: Nick Chelton
Choreographer and Movement Director: Ron Howell
TV Director: Derek Bailey
Picture Format 4/3
Region: All Regions
DVD format: NTSC
Sound 2.0 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English OPUS
ARTE OAR3105D [177.00]
playwright Racine wove real historical persons into this
fictitious plot. From that play Cinga-Santi wrote the
libretto and the then 14-year-old Mozart wrote the music:
under pressure. The background story is recorded on the
screen during the overture. In substance, Mitridate was
King of Pontus from 120–63 BC. He was then Rome’s most
effective enemy having taken from it swathes of Greece
and Asia Minor. It took three wars against him for the
Romans to wreak vengeance and destroy him. The opera
takes place at Nymphaeum at the end of his life after
his final defeat.
had reported his own death to test the loyalty of his
two sons Farnace and Sifare having left his betrothed
Aspasia ‘at home’. Inevitably his two sons court her.
Farnace has long had Roman sympathies –with the offer
of the throne of Nymphaeum on Mitridate’s final defeat.
Sifare remains true to his Father politically but his
advances to Aspasia are reciprocated.
his return Mitridate brings Ismene a Parthian princess
betrothed to Farnace whom Farnace rejects. Mitridate
discovers the political and social intrigues and promises
death to all putting Farnace in chains immediately. He
leaves for a final battle. The Roman tribune Marzio releases
Farnace who rediscovers his filial duty and sets fire
to the Roman fleet. Mitridate fatally wounds himself
(better than death at the hand of the enemy?) leaving
the younger people reconciled to each other and to continue
the war against Rome.
that was not sufficient for the 14 year old composer,
he faced writing and re-writing the arias in less than
three months because he composed for, and with, the engaged
singers who could be decidedly temperamental about opportunities
for vocal display – or conversely very supportive: as
the prima donna who refused to introduce arias written
by Gasparini for his same opera. All prejudice against
Mozart’s youthfulness was ended at the first performance.
The performance was repeated 21 times. It then disappeared
from the repertoire until the last century.
having been performed at Covent Garden this production
was commissioned for the Mozart bi-centenary of 1991.
It was recorded for this DVD in 1993 and revived in 1994.
Jeremy Isaacs considered it “the most perfect production
up to then of (his) time as General Director (of Covent
Garden)”: (Jeremy Isaacs, Never Mind the Moon Bantam
Press, 1999, p.177).
is an incredibly strong statement that it is impossible
to analyse without seeing all the other productions during
his time. However, what I can say without fear of contradiction
is that this DVD will not leave you without some strong
opinions. This opera and this production in particular,
are not for the operatic novice. Despite regular cutting
of the recitatives they are still very long and the da
capo arias with their oft repeated sections or lines
need operatic experience and/or a deep love of coloratura
to appreciate them. An eighteenth century 14 year old
boy superstar wrote them but a twenty-first century average
teenager or non-aficionado could just be put off for
Ford (Mitridate) is in superb voice. This is a youthful
Ford, not yet 40, at the height of his operatic power.
His cavata in Act 1 Se di lauri il crine adorno (no.
8 – see later for a note about track/aria numbering)
evinces the tired defeated and defiant leader moved in
his aria at the end of that Act to robust condemnation
of his elder son Farnace for his disloyalty. Similarly
his aria condemning his younger son Già di pietà (no.
17) is delivered with powerful vocal simplicity and strong
acting. Superb enunciation and clarity of notes with
his distinctive timbre make this role a joy to hear.
Orgonasova (Aspasia) focuses intently on her role and
wisely takes the first aria down a peg or two from awesome
coloratura to a more controlled and well paced display.
Throughout she is excellent in her portrayal and in her
interaction with others: this is an Aspasia whose feelings
cannot be mistaken. Pallid’ ombra (no 21) is perhaps
the most well known of her arias and Orgonasova does
not disappoint with her superb delivery, excellent dynamics
and strong colouring. She moves seamlessly from unsettling
recitative into a tranquil acceptance of her own death.
Murray is the loyal son Sifare – a ‘trouser’ role that
is meat and drink to her. However dare I wish that she
would just rein in slightly the power of her voice. For
me, and I emphasise that, the application of full power
to her otherwise lovely vocal instrument gives it an
unnecessary harshness of edge. Contrast that with the
exquisite beauty of her resigned and gentle farewell
to Aspasia Lungi da te (no13) with it horn obbligato.
Here Mozart pays lip service to the da capo concept with
only a slight increase of tempo for the second subject
without disturbing the tenderness of the farewell.
Kowalski very obviously relishes his role as the duplicitous
Farnace. I would place a considerable sum of money on
him regretting that Cigna-Santi converted him to a loving
son at the end instead of leaving him duplicitously loyal
to Rome as in Racine’s play. Whilst it may be that he
has not the strongest voice at the lower end of his register
he more than compensates with an otherwise virtuoso performance.
He responds to all Mozart’s demands for colouring. He
is a totally convincing plotter and when lit from below
has a delicious frisson of evil. Was it Graham Vick or
he who decided on that delightful stab of his own cloak
with his sword to convey his feelings for his father.
Watson (Ismene) is the consummate coloratura soprano.
It is not a role for pyrotechnics: but it does afford
opportunities for runs and trills with convincing professionalism
of colouring and technique that shine like a beacon.
Fugelle (Arbace) despatches her single aria, which has
limited coloratura, with almost nonchalant ease. Marzio,
sung by Justin Lavender, has more scope for vocal display
in his one aria. I am not sure that his coloratura style
(instead of just the notes, a series of ‘ha-has’) entirely
suited the music but it made a clear distinction for
his Roman role – the voice of temptation to Farnace:
the throne and vengeance.
I found disconcerting during that aria was the choreography
for his three soldiers moving in the background. When
it got to the slow goose-step to accompany part of the
aria I thought the choreography went beyond the distracting
and entered the realms of the silly. Mitridate, Ismene
and Arbate also have their followers. No choreography
for the Arbate supporters but Ismene’s Parthian escort
and Mitridate’s Royal Guard indulged in movements that
at best are reasonably uninteresting and at worst distracting – particularly
when the camera focuses on them to the extent that they
are more than incidental.
the orchestral playing under Paul Daniel is superbly
supportive revealing most of the nuances of the young
composer’s writing from accompaniment of fierce verbal
onslaught through to great lyricism and tonal beauty.
sets are simple, opening with a wreathed cenotaph, later
using a series of large deeply coloured screens with
a bare stage and limited additional props. If it was
pence on the sets then it was very many pounds on the
costumes. So fascinating are they that I sought help.
The Royal Opera House said that the programme contained
no details and that they had no current email address
for either Paul Brown or even Graham Vick to which they
could forward my queries. Disappointing. So watch it
and speculate: Noh masks; sixteenth century hobby horses;
extended pannier dress; samurai influence; Farnace the
sinister left hander (no armour on right shoulder in
last Act); Russian doll dress and ‘blob’ cheek make-up;
the tomb / flame for the unknown warrior; jousting favours.
I could go on and on. Make your own list: this production
will certainly provoke thought at all levels.
that is excellently stimulating. Where the presentation
lets itself down is at the humdrum booklet level of aria
numbers. It lists on the last page the aria numbers and
uses Mozart’s numbers giving the characters singing them.
The very helpful booklet synopsis refers to the arias
by name and not number. What a pity numbers were not
added to that text to enable one to cross – refer particularly
bearing in mind the omission of arias 5 and 12. A small
point but somewhat frustrating.
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