Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mitridate was Mozart's first opera seria, composed for Milan in 1770. No sane person would call it a masterpiece: even within the standards of opera seria it is a somewhat stagnant tale, with events unfolding slowly enough to be called dramatically inept. Aria follows aria--almost two dozen of them--and there is but one duet.
The plot concerns King Mitridate (tenor), betrothed to Aspasia (soprano), who in turn is loved by both of Mitridate's sons--Farnace (mezzo-soprano, originally castrato) and Sifare (soprano, originally castrato)--who are separate ends of things politically, one siding with the Romans (here the bad guys), the other with the Greeks. When Mitridate goes to war, rumors come back saying he has died. The
brothers battle over Aspasia (Sifare wins) and to determine who will ascend to the throne, but Mitridate returns alive. Then things get complicated. At any rate, Mitridate goes off to war again and as he's about to be captured, he falls on his own sword and dies after pardoning both sons. This takes three hours, but at its premiere, the opera was a great success.
The current recording is not the first. One, on Philips led by Leopold Hager, is compromised by both weak casting in the title role and stodgy conducting; the other, on Decca under Christophe Rousset, is terrific, with Natalie Dessay a stunning Aspasia and Cecilia Bartoli dazzling as Sifare, with Giuseppe Sabbatini's Mitridate impressive. This new Orfeo release was taped live in Salzburg in 1997 and makes a very exciting case for the work.
Roger Norrington has significantly pared the too-long recitatives, and the opera comes in at a manageable two-and-a-half hours. His pacing is intelligent and the Camerata plays with snap and energy for him; his singers also are always in accord with what he asks of them.
As you've probably guessed, Mitridate is a showpiece opera, and we get some great pyrotechnics from our singers. Tenor Bruce Ford buries the competition in the title role, singing with great power, impeccable diction, and no fear of heights --one aria has a half-dozen exposed high-Cs, every one of which is thrilling. Cyndia Sieden stands up to the competition--Natalie Dessay--brilliantly, with never a note out of place, no matter how outlandish the fiorature. The same might be said of Christiane Oelze's Sifare, which is of an entirely different hue than Bartoli's but equally effective.
In Rousset's recording, countertenor Brian Asawa sings Farnace; here we get the great Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova. Her voice lacks focus for the first two acts--some pitches are blurred--but she's always involved and her final act is stunningly sung, with her unique smoky tone. The smaller roles also require virtuoso singers: As Ismene, a princess, Heidi Grant Murphy is splendid, but Sandrine Piau on Decca has more character; Marzio, a Roman tribune, is sung by Toby Spence, even better than the very young Juan Diego Florez for Rousset; and Larissa Rudakova sings Arbate, a local governor loyal to Mitridate, with sincerity. The recorded sound is vivid and realistic with little stage noise. In short, you can't go wrong with either this or the Decca recordings, but Norrington's recitative cuts and Bruce Ford's performance might just push the balance in Orfeo's favor.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Mitridate, rč di Ponto, K 87 (74a) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Heidi Grant Murphy (Soprano),
Larisa Rudakova (Soprano),
Cyndia Sieden (Soprano),
Bruce Ford (Tenor),
Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzo Soprano),
Toby Spence (Tenor),
Christiane Oelze (Soprano)
Written: 1770; Milan, Italy
Date of Recording: 2/1/1997
Venue: Live Live Salzburg, Austria
Length: 152 Minutes 0 Secs.
Be the first to review this title