Thursday, 4 December 2014

Mitridate Re di Ponto

Mitridate Re di Ponto - Classical Opera
Mozart Mitridate Re di Ponto; Banks, Persson, Bevan, Zazzo, Devin, Classical Opera, Ian Page; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 22 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Fine new recording and spectacular vocal fireworks in latest instalment from Classical Opera's

Mozart wrote Mitridate Re di Ponto when he was 14, an astonishing achievement for a teenager. It was a commission for the 1770 season at the Teatro Regio, Milan, then under Austrian rule so that the theatre was in the charge of Empress Maria Theresa's viceroy, the cultured Count Firmian. The cast members seem to have had their doubts, and insisted that Mozart write new arias replacing the ones he had already written. This new recording on Signum Classics from Ian Page and Classical Opera includes not only the complete opera but the seven surviving arias and one duet which Mozart had to jettison.

And it must have been quite a cast, the music Mozart wrote is brilliant and virtuoso, both the roles of Mitridate and Farnace include extended lower range and wide leaps. Page has assembled a fine modern cast with Barry Banks as Mitridate, Miah Persson as Aspasia, Sophie Bevan as Sifare, Lawrence Zazzo as Farnace, Anna Devin as Arbate plus Klara Ek and Robert Murray.

The commission was originally to have been a setting of a libretto by Metastasio, but this was changed. The tenor soloist Guglielmo d'Ettore (one of the finest soloists of his day), had sung in Gasparini's Mitridate Re di Ponto, and it was decided to have Mozart set another version of the same libretto. Ian Page in his booklet note suggests that this might have been insurance in case Mozart's opera did not come up to scratch and the Gasparini could be used.

Mozart Re di Ponto was the first of three operas Mozart wrote for Milan; Ascanio in Allba (1771) and Lucia Silla (1772) would follow. Throughout his life Mozart would continue to be highly engaged with the opera seria form, which was then approaching the end of its long life. The 14 year old Mozart seems to have set the libretto to Mitridate unquestioningly; it is a sequence of arias and recitative with the odd duet. By 1781 when he wrote Idomeneo, he would engage in long dialogues with his librettist introducing a number of changes, adding ensembles and the libretto for his final opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito (1791), was extensively re-written from Metastasio's original.

Mitridate Re di Ponto is the usual opera seria family dynastic quarrel, with the added spice of father and son in love with the same woman. Mitridate was played by a tenor with his two sons Sifare and Farnace as castrati. Here we have Barry Banks with Sophie Bevan and Lawrence Zazzo. Farnace lies in the counter-tenor range, but Sifare is higher. I have heard the role of Sifare sung by a mezzo-soprano and Ann Murray sang it at Covent Garden. And here lies a somewhat annoying wrinkle in this fine performance. The young singers are all admirable (in fact far more than admirable), but there is not enough differentiation in timbre between the different sopranos and you do rather need to follow with the CD booklet in hand.

The performances are, however, superb and all singers are both stylish and suitably bravura. Miah Persson as Aspasia launches things in tremendous fashion with her opening aria, which Persson sings with amazing power and panache, yet she shows elsewhere she can be stylish and poignant. Sophie Bevan copes with the wide range of Sifare's arias with aplomb, and is poised and elegant. Her aria with solo french horn in act two is a stand out moment. Anna Devin makes a similarly impressive Abate, and Kara Ek dispatches Ismene's arias with character.

Barry Banks in the title role is apparently effortless in the high tessitura, yet brings a nice firm virtuoso line to the arias and lovely sense of style. He is matched by Lawrence Zazzo who dispatches Farnace's busy passage-work with tremendous bravura, and throws in some strong chest notes for good measure. Robert Murray gets just one aria as Marzio

Most of the music is amazingly competent and more so, and just occasionally when the going gets really tough for the characters then Mozart gives us something which seems  to presage his maturer self.

There is a large period instrument band, led by Matthew Truscott, including four horns and two trumpets. They do Ian Page proud and bring off the virtuoso instrumental writing with panache.

The recitative is performed with a continuo group of Steve Devine, harpsichord, Andrew Skidmore, cello, Cecilia Bruggemeyer, double bass, and though it is fluent and involving I did wonder whether the general pace might not be a bit too steady. This is admirable for comprehensibility but perhaps a little more zing might have been welcome.

I have to confess that when I received this set I did rather quail at the thought of over 3 hours 40 minutes of music by the 14 year old Mozart. But Mozart sees to always have been highly engaged with the opera seria genre, and Ian Page and his cast give superbly crafted and highly involving performances.

This is the next installment in Ian Page and Classical Opera's planned complete Mozart operas. I must confess that I look forward to future issues and particularly anticipate their take on Mozart's first mature opera, the opera seria Idomeneo.

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1 comment:

  1. LOVE your typo: "Mozart Re di Ponto" ! Don't fix it!


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