Natalie Dessay is extraordinary -- full, creamy tone, brilliantly thrown-off rapid music, a firmly sustained line, a keen sense of drama, high notes struck loud and clear and bang in the middle: one could ask for nothing more.
Mozart was not quite 15 when, in 1770, he composed Mitridate, as the first carnival opera – and so the main event of the season – for the Milan opera house, the one that was shortly to become La Scala. It was a dramma per musica in the heroic mould, the type nowadays called opera seria. It is generally taken to have been a success, as it ran for more than 20 performances and Mozart quickly received two further Milan commissions. But it was not subsequently revived until modern times (there was aRead more conspicuously successful revival at Covent Garden for the bicentenary, in 1991). Operas of that period were, of course, composed specifically for the cast that created them: Mozart more than once referred to fitting an aria to the voice as a tailor fitted a suit to the figure. And some of the original cast of Mitridate thought their arias ill-fitting: Mozart was required to rewrite several of them (one of them five times over, it seems, before the tenor was satisfied – though the sublime result justifies it). Some of the rejects have survived: it might have been a happy notion to include them as an appendix here – the final CD, a mere 46 minutes, could readily have accommodated more. And one aria that was not by Mozart but by the Turinese organist Quirino Gasparini, who had set the same libretto shortly before, was sung at the Milan premiere, and has been sung at virtually every modern performance, as it found its way into the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe score; here, however, Mozart’s own aria is given (in truth, it is not much superior). Many of the arias are expansive pieces, with a semi-da capo, and make heavy demands on the singers’ agility and compass.
There has been only one CD recording of Mitridate, first released on LP by DG in 1978 and then on CD in 1991 as part of the complete Philips series; it has a starry cast, as indeed has the present one. The primo uomo role, Sifare, was written for an unusually high-lying castrato voice. Here it is sung, with great character, by Cecilia Bartoli. Perhaps the finest of her four arias is the slow one in Act 2 with horn obbligato, ‘Lungi da te, mio bene’, which is sung here with real depth of feeling, shapeliness of line and richness of tone. But her caressing of the phrases in the slow part of her second Act 1 aria, and her exact and clearly articulated semiquaver fioriture in the fast part, are a delight too, as they are in her opening number, a virtuoso piece which she dispatches imperiously. The only reservation I have is that the part does lie very high for her: the top B flats (there are some in her final aria, a passionate C minor piece) sound strained, and indeed the quality from G upwards is slightly impaired. Still, it is a marvellous performance and she brings to the music a real sense of drama and care for the words and their meaning, in the recitative as well as the arias.
I have nothing but praise, too, for Natalie Dessay, Queen of Night in the Christie Zauberflote (Erato, 5/96), in the prima donna role of Aspasia, beloved of Sifare, lusted after by his brother Farnace, betrothed to their father Mitridate (that more or less summarizes the basis of the plot). Full, creamy tone, brilliantly thrown-off rapid music, a firmly sustained line (try ‘Pallid’ombre’, in Act 3, taken very slowly), a keen sense of drama, high notes struck loud and clear and bang in the middle: one could ask for nothing more. Her duet with Bartoli, the single concerted number, at the end of Act 2, is a joy: they seem to have all the time in the world for sensitive phrasing and refined detail. Then Brian Asawa, in the castrato role of Farnace, offers some very fine countertenor singing, with a full, almost throaty tone, not at all in the usual countertenor manner, and extraordinarily even across a wide range. There is incisiveness, clear staccato, rhythmic vitality (notably in the vigorous ‘Venga pur’), and in his final aria (where Farnace repents his misdeeds) a powerfully sustained line in what is the longest and possibly the most deeply felt piece in the opera. Sandrine Piau sings tenderly and gracefully in Ismene’s rather lighter role.
The tenor role of Mitridate was written for Guglielmo d’Ettore, a singer who was himself a composer; clearly he specialized in wide leaps. Giuseppe Sabbatini copes well with these but does not always manage so happily either in the lyrical music or the expressions of anger (of which there are several). He is inclined to sing too loudly or too softly: there is no comfortable mean. His first aria, ‘Se di lauri’, the most beautiful piece in the score (this is the one at which Mozart had five shots), is too forceful and grandiose where softness and warmth are wanted, and the pianissimo recapitulation is not persuasive. Still, this is accurate, technically accomplished and perfectly tuned singing. In the angry arias he is apt to rant; the effect is fiery enough but the sound is not very musical. In the two small roles, Helene Le Corre sings very pleasantly in Arbate’s aria and Juan Diego Florez shows a substantial, slightly nasal voice in Marzio’s.
Christophe Rousset directs his period instrument band with plenty of vigour and conviction. Here and there one might query a choice of tempo, but he usually has a good dramatic or vocal reason for his departures. He keeps the recitative moving well (it sounds particularly alert when Bartoli is present) and observes appoggiaturas sensibly, but some of the accompanied recitatives might possibly have had more dramatic life.
The earlier recording had Auger, Cotrubas, Gruberova, Baltsa and Hollweg, and is, of course, vocally very impressive. It is however rather tamely conducted by Leopold Hager; Rousset finds much more life in the music and I wouldn’t hesitate to choose this new set.
Mitridate, rè di Ponto, K 87 (74a)by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Performer:
Natalie Dessay (Soprano),
Giuseppe Sabbatini (Tenor),
Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano),
Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor),
Sandrine Piau (Soprano),
Hélène Le Corre (Soprano),
Brian Asawa (Countertenor)
Les Talens Lyriques
Period: Classical Written: 1770; Milan, Italy Date of Recording: 05/1998 Venue: Castillo Hall, Vevey, Switzerland Length: 174 Minutes 33 Secs. Language: Italian
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Written by a fourteen year old genius!February 2, 2013By Keith Messersmith (Ashland, PA)See All My Reviews"How grateful we must be for this early recording of Mozart's opera. What singers he must have worked with judging by some of the difficulty in these operatic arias. All round very fine recording, everyone acquits themselves admirably, only concern Mozart didnt feel there was a need for the chorus in this opera, so giving it's length you must love singing for a hundred and fifty minutes of da capo arias. Reccomended."Report Abuse