Mozart’s Mitridate – ROH 1993

Mitridate, rè di Ponto is a three act opera seria by a fourteen year old kid called Mozart with a libretto based on Racine. Like most operas with a libretto based on Racine, and there are many, it isn’t exactly a barrel load of laughs. While it’s fair to say that the music may well be the best ever composed by a fourteen year old and it is recognisably Mozart it’s still not really quite enough to carry three hours of recitative and da capo arias about the troubled love life and familial relations of a first century BC King of Pontus and his fractious sons. In short, it gets a bit tedious. For a modern audience it’s not improved by the fact that all the male voices are high. Originally the score called for three castrati and two tenors. In the 1993 Royal Opera House production two of the three castrato roles were taken by mezzos and the third, inevitably the baddy, by a countertenor. For the record, here’s the full cast:

The director – Graham Vick, designer – Paul Brown and choreographer – Ron Howell do a pretty good job of injecting some life into the production with fairly extreme use of colour in the costume design, sets and makeup. The choreography and blocking is also quite striking at times but it still ends up being rather a wash of coloratura. The singers too do a worthy job but after a while it all starts to sound the same. Good work too from conductor, Paul Daniel, and the ROH orchestra but ultimately a bit blah.

Video director Derek Bailey does a pretty good job for the period. It’s hard to object to closing in on the singer during a da capo aria and he does pull out when there is stage wide action. He’s not helped by pretty average picture quality that lacks the definition needed to make long shots fully effective. Technically it’s a typical Kultur release of the period. The less than brilliant picture is coupled with so-so Dolby 2.0 sound, hard coded English sub-titles and minimum documentation. It’s also a bit quirky in that the overture comes on, with lead in credits, as soon as the disc is inserted. There’s no “set-up” menu.

One for the Mozart completist.

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3 thoughts on “Mozart’s Mitridate – ROH 1993

  1. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this, but never the whole thing. I have this plan that someday I will have listened to all of Mozart’s operas all the way through, but I admit that this one is pretty far down the list of the ones I haven’t gotten to yet.

  2. I would agree with anyone that Mitridate like Mozart’s final opera Clemenzo di Tito and all opera seria is so contrived and of its culture that you can only enjoy it with a very camp eye. And I think this is what the above production as well as those frilly flouncy fabulous Ponelle opera movies do: they show that sometimes straight/respectable/social leaders are often just a tad laughable. Analysing their each and every emotional change with a new personification, and melodramatising every little conflict you and I have to deal with while holding down a job, a home life and a public image WITH NO SERVANTS OR ESTATES – how can that be any less entertaining than Game of Thrones. And with that brilliant score! John, I don’t think you GET what you have passed opinion on. The Royal Opera seems to have invested a very intense cultural reference to South Indian classical forms- which I found most intriguing. It’s just Mozart and it’s just entertainment with a few odd ideas at times thrown in to make you feel less superficial, kinda like Sex & the City!

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