Mitridate review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘expertly sung’
Mozart composed Mitridate, King of Pontus when he was just 14 for the predecessor of La Scala, Milan. It’s representative of the serious opera (‘opera seria’) of the day (1770), when singers (often castratos) ruled the stage and competed throughout the evening to out-sing one another in an endless sequence of ornate and complex solo arias.
It’s a kind of musical drama that the adult Mozart would move away from and which eventually fell out of fashion, and it can be a hard sell to modern audiences, requiring extremely careful handling.
Fortunately, it gets it here in this revival by Graham Vick of his visually stunning staging, first seen back in 1991. With the striking influence of Baroque and Oriental theatre evident in Paul Brown’s vividly coloured designs, and especially in his enormous and spectacular costumes (which must take a lot of getting used to if you’re wearing them), it provides an evening in which high art meets high camp.
Crucial to the show’s success is the quality of the singing, with the individual performers despatching rapid-fire coloratura and impossible high notes as they demonstrate their prodigious virtuosity.
No-one disappoints, with exceptional standouts from Michael Spyres as the king of an area now in Turkey who defies Roman rule, and with Bejun Mehta and Salome Jicia as his sons Farnace and Sifare, who – like their father – both want to marry the princess Aspasia, a role in which Albina Shagimuratova gets better and better as the evening proceeds. Lucy Crowe shines equally brightly as Ismene, daughter of a neighbouring king, who eventually marries Farnace.
In the pit, historically informed specialist Christophe Rousset makes his Royal Opera debut and never misses a trick.