Notes and Editorial Reviews
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, Mozarts 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 Pallidombre, 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 Ismenes rather lighter role.
The tenor role of Mitridate was written for Guglielmo dEttore, 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 Arbates aria and Juan Diego Florez shows a substantial, slightly nasal voice in Marzios.
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 wouldnt hesitate to choose this new set.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [5/1999]
Works on This Recording
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)
Conductor: Christophe Rousset
Orchestra/Ensemble: Les Talens Lyriques
Written: 1770; Milan, Italy
Date of Recording: 05/1998
Venue: Castillo Hall, Vevey, Switzerland
Length: 174 Minutes 33 Secs.
"Mitridates" redirects here. For Alessandro Scarlatti's 1707 opera on the same subject, see Mitridate Eupatore. For other uses, see Mithridates.
Mitridate, re di Ponto (Mithridates, King of Pontus), K. 87 (74a), is an early opera seria in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto is by Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi (it), after Giuseppe Parini's Italian translation of Jean Racine's play Mithridate.
Mozart wrote Mitridate while touring Italy in 1770. The musicologist Daniel E. Freeman has recently demonstrated that it was composed with close reference to the opera La Nitteti by Josef Mysliveček. The latter was the opera being prepared for production in Bologna when Mozart met Mysliveček for the first time with his father in March 1770. Mysliveček visited the Mozarts frequently in Bologna during the summer of 1770 while Wolfgang was working on Mitridate. Mozart gained expertise in composition from his older friend and also incorporated some of his musical motives into his own operatic setting. The opera was first performed at the Teatro Regio Ducal, Milan, on 26 December 1770 (at the Milan Carnival). It was a success, having been performed twenty-one times despite doubts because of Mozart's extreme youth – he was 14 at the time. No revival took place until the 20th century. This opera features virtuoso arias for the principal roles, but only two ensemble numbers: the act 2 ending duet between Aspasia and Sifare ("Se viver non degg’io"), and the brief quintet that ends the opera, very characteristic of standard baroque opera seria where the opera ends with a short coro or tutti number.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 26 December 1770|
(Conductor: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
|Arbate, Governor of Nymphæa||sopranocastrato||Pietro Muschietti|
|Sifare or Xiphares, Mitridate's son||soprano castrato||Pietro Benedetti (Sartorino)|
|Aspasia, the Queen, pledged in marriage to Mitridate||soprano||Antonia Bernasconi|
|Farnace or Pharnaces, Mitridate's eldest son||alto castrato||Giuseppe Cicognani|
|Marzio or Marcius, Roman legionary officer||tenor||Gasparo Bassano|
|Mitridate, King of Pontus||tenor||Guglielmo d'Ettore|
|Ismene, Parthian Princess||soprano||Anna Francesca Varese|
- Place: around the Crimean port of Nymphæum
- Time: 63BC during the conflict between Rome and Pontus
Mitridate, having suffered a heavy defeat in battle, is presumed dead. This false news is passed by Arbate, the Governor, to Aspasia (Mitridate's fiancée) and to Farnace and Sifare (Mitridate's sons).
Arbate, the governor of Nymphæum, welcomes Sifare. We learn that Sifare resents his brother, Farnace, because of his brother’s strong ties with their enemies, the Romans. Arbate pledges his loyalty to Sifare. Aspasia pleads for Sifare to help her against advances by Farnace. He accepts her plea and reveals his love for her.
Farnace makes his advances to Aspasia. She refuses, supported by Sifare, who protects her from his forceful brother. News arrives that Mitridate is alive and is approaching the city. Arbate urges the brothers to conceal their differences and greet their father. The brothers agree to hide their feelings for Aspasia. Farnace conspires with Marzio, Roman legionary officer, against Mitridate.
Mitridate arrives on the shores of Nymphæaum with Princess Ismene, daughter of his ally the King of Parthia. Mitridate wants Farnace to marry Ismene, his promised bride. Ismene is in love with Farnace but senses problems and is worried about her future. Arbate tells Mitridate that Farnace is pursuing Aspasia, not mentioning Sifare. The jealous Mitridate swears revenge on Farnace.
Farnace scorns and threatens Ismene. She tells Mitridate, who suggests that she should marry Sifare. Mitridate asks Aspasia for immediate marriage but she hesitates, proving to him that she is unfaithful. Aspasia confesses love to Sifare but they both agree to part to save their honour. Sifare plans to leave and Aspasia is troubled by the conflict between love and duty.
Mitridate is aware of Farnace's plot against him with the Romans; he plans his revenge, despite Marzio’s offer of peace, and arrests Farnace to execute him. Ismene rescues the prince, who admits his treachery but implicates Sifare. Mitridate tricks Aspasia into admitting her love for Sifare and swears revenge. Aspasia and Sifare wish to die together, in fear of Mitridate’s threats.
Ismene, still in love with Farnace, tries to convince Mitridate to forgive Aspasia. The Romans attack and Mitridate leaves for battle. Aspasia contemplates suicide by poison. Sifare also wants to die, and joins his father in the battle.
Marzio liberates Farnace and promises him the rule of Nymphæum. Farnace changes his mind, deciding to side with Mitridate.
Defeated, Mitridate commits suicide, avoiding captivity. Before he dies he gives his blessing to Sifare and Aspasia and forgives Farnace, who now agrees to marry Ismene. All four pledge to free the world from Rome.
In 1901, Charles Malherbe located previously uncatalogued works of Mozart, including a soprano aria from the opera Mitridate, re di Ponto, written at age 14. It was performed that year in Paris by Camille Fourrier.
- 1986: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle 1986 film, Nikolaus Harnoncourt/Gösta Winbergh, Yvonne Kenny, Ann Murray (DVD)
- 1993: Royal Opera House, Paul Daniel/Bruce Ford, Jochen Kowalski, Ann Murray, Luba Orgonášová (DVD)
- 1997 Salzburg Mozart Week, Roger Norrington/Bruce Ford, Vesselina Kasarova, Cyndia Sieden, Christiane Oelze (CD)
- 1999: Christophe Rousset/Giuseppe Sabbatini, Brian Asawa, Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay (CD)
- 2006: Salzburg Festival, Marc Minkowski/Richard Croft, Bejun Mehta, Miah Persson (DVD)
List of operas by Mozart
- Bourne, Joyce, "Mitridate, re di Ponto", Who's Who in Opera. Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Latham, Alison, "Mitridate, re di Ponto", The Oxford Companion to Music. London: Oxford University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-19-866212-2
- Warrack, John and Ewan West, "Mitridate, re di Ponto", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford University Press, 1996.
- ^See especially Daniel E. Freeman, Josef Mysliveček, "Il Boemo" (Sterling Heights, Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 2009), pp. 229–35.
- ^The Monthly Musical Record(Digitized online by GoogleBooks). 31. 1901.