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Mitridate, re di Ponto

Royal Opera House

IThas been revival time at the Covent Garden this season and Mitridate is no exception. Paul Brown's stunning bright red set still takes your breath away when the curtain first rises. It is minimalist, with the action taking place through the middle of two converging walls that add or reduce the central space.

Mitridate was Mozart's first opera. You can see him now, 14 years old, going down the local youth centre clutching hold of the score. "What you been doing Wolfie?' asks one of his friends. "Just wrote an opera. Three hours long. But I've made it difficult for the singers, with a lot of coloratura just to give their vocal chords a bit of a road test." Except that Wolfgang Amadeus probably never went anywhere children his own age never mind a youth centre.

It seems picky to criticise the opera because it was written by someone so young, but then people pay to see it, so why not. First it lasts for at least about three hours, maybe 30 minutes too long. It is an opera seria, which usually has spoken dialogue to join the parts, but happily this has sung recitatives. Even so, there is too much of it and the harpsichordist should have been paid over-time, while conductor Richard Hickox and the rest of the orchestra could have had a few tea breaks in between. The arias are far from memorable.

Enjoyable production

Graham Vick's production, though, first seen in the Royal Opera House in 1991, is enjoyable and Brown's costumes are bright and elaborate, fitting in sensationally with the red stage.

Bruce Ford, who has been in the previous two Covent Garden stagings reprises his role of Mitridate, the king who makes out he has been killed in battle with the Romans to test the loyalty of his two sons, Sifare (Sally Matthews in another trouser role) and Farnace (David Daniels, an exceptional counter-tenor).

Both sons fall for Mitridate's betrothed, Aspasia (Aleksandra Kurzak), although Farnace is a bit more upfront about it. Mitridate returns and finds out about Farnace's intentions, while believing that Sifare has remained loyal. The fact that Farnace, who has been promised to Ismene (Susan Gritton), the daughter of Mitridate's ally the King of Parthia, has sympathies with the Romans also goes against him.

Antagonised

Mitridate eventually sentences Farnace to death, but his son redeems himself by fighting the Romans with his father and is forgiven before Mitridate's death. Farnace ends up with Ismene, Sifare with Aspasia and they all live happily ever after, except for Mitridate who's dead.

The antagonism between the two brothers is the centre point of the opera and Matthews is magnificent. Having seen her recently in recital at the Wigmore Hall I can confirm that she is indeed a woman, such is the number of trouser roles she plays. Daniels comes in to his own in Act III, where he gets much more of the spotlight. Ford appears in cruise control throughout, while Gritton and Kurzak do their best in roles that are always just supporting.

* Unfortunately a review of Renee Fleming in Otello is unable to appear as the performance I was to see was on the day of the London bombings and was cancelled.

Review by Peter Wilson


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