Mitridate: Re di Ponto

£24.00

Classical Opera continue their series of Mozart Operas on Signum with Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, K. 87 (74a). As well as the complete opera, this 4CD digipak release includes a bonus disc featuring the original versions of a number of arias from the opera that Mozart subsequently changed in the final version.

MITRIDATE King of Pontus BARRY BANKS tenor

ASPASIA betrothed to Mitridate MIAH PERSSON soprano

SIFARE Mitridate’s younger son SOPHIE BEVAN soprano

FARNACE Mitridate’s elder son LAWRENCE ZAZZO countertenor

ISMENE daughter of the King of Parthia KLARA EK soprano

MARZIO a Roman tribune ROBERT MURRAY tenor

ARBATE governor of Nymphaea ANNA DEVIN soprano

SKU: SIGCD400

What people are saying

"This splendid achievement, a genuine rival to Christophe Rousset’s star-studded 1999 Decca version, is given added documentary value by the inclusion of a fourth CD containing the original versions of eight arias the teenage Mozart changed at the behest of his cast." Opera Magazine

"Nobody has done more to open our ears to the seeds of genius in the young Mozart than Ian Page, by the simple expedient of taking his early music seriously." Opera Now

"This performance is as committed and engaging if you could wish for; the hours – almost four if you include those extras – fly by. It’s almost budget price as well with essay texts and translations" BBC Radio 3, CD Review

"lan Page nurtures a performance that crackles, beguiles, thrills and moves by turns exactly as Mozart’s opera requires" Gramophone

"This excellent recording is probably the one that Mozart completists will want to have"  Daily Telegraph, November 2014

"The orchestral sound makes you sit up and take notice right from the outset? this also, like so much else in this recording, speaks highly of Ian Page’s direction. Throughout, he is utterly sensitive to the conventions of the genre and knows when to obey them and when to subvert them" Music Web International, December 2015

Classical Opera
Ian Page conductor

Release date:13th Oct 2014
Order code:SIGCD400
Barcode: 635212040027

The opera seria Mitridate, re di Ponto was written in Italy in 1770, when Mozart was on tour there with his father. The libretto was written by Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi, based on Racine’s tragedy Mithridate. Recent research has shown that the model for the work was an opera by Josef Myslive?ek, who visited Mozart in Bologna several times during the summer when the 14-year-old Austrian was working on Mitridate. Obviously he could give some advice and Mozart even incorporated some motifs from his older friend. Due to Mozart’s age some of the singers were sceptical as to his ability – and he also came from a German-speaking country – and had him rewrite several numbers according to their wishes. Fortunately Mozart’s first attempts have survived and on this set they are enclosed as an appendix. It is fascinating to listen and compare. Most of all one marvels at the precocity and professionalism of this schoolboy.

The opera is no fully-fledged masterwork. He follows the norms for an opera seria with a number of arias separated by – often very long – secco recitatives. A duet and a short final ensemble is all that creates some variation. It is still fascinating to hear how skilful and creative he is and several of the arias very clearly point forward to his mature works. Idomeneo and Die Entführung aus dem Serail were only 11 and 12 years away. Mitridate was a success when it opened on 26 December 1770 at the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan. It was played 21 times during the carnival. After that it wasn’t seen again until the twentieth century.

There have been some recordings, the first, I believe, the DG-set from January 1977 with the Mozarteum-Orchester, Salzburg conducted by Leopold Hager and with a stellar cast: Werner Hollweg (Mitridate), Arleen Auger (Aspasia), Edita Gruberova (Sifare), Agnes Baltsa (Farnace), Ileana Cotrubas (Ismene) and David Kübler (Marzio), all of them at the height of their powers. A newcomer has to offer something very special indeed to challenge this classic.

The first thing to observe – and that was also the hang-up in some reviews when the DG-set was first issued – is that Hager’s approach is much more relaxed; I would even say laid-back. Ian Page is far more eager and forward-leaning and there are sharper rhythms. Hager and his orchestral fellows are on a comfortable promenade whereas Page and his friends are jogging with a spring in the step. Timings also confirm this: in practically every musical number Hager needs more time. Let me modify this verdict: Listening to the Hager recording without making direct comparisons it is a satisfying reading but put in relief against Page, the latter is more eager, more youthful, plainly speaking more interesting.

That’s one side of the coin. When it comes to the soloists the situation becomes a little more complicated. It’s a question of five legendary world-stars against a group of rising stars. This verdict also has to be qualified. The central couple, King Mitridate and his betrothed Aspasia, are far beyond the rising star level. Barry Banks has long been one of the foremost lyric tenors in the world, firmly established at the Metropolitan, Lyric Opera of Chicago and other American houses as well as the most prestigious houses in Europe. I have very fond memories of him from performances at the ENO. He has retained the lightness of tone and the often honeyed delivery but added a little more punch which makes him well-nigh ideal for the title role in this opera. Most of his arias are dramatic and Banks characterizes well. The revenge aria Quel ribelle e quell’ingrato (CD 1 tr. 26) is an excellent example. Werner Hollweg on the Hager set is also very good, has an even stronger voice, but Banks is the more expressive of the two.

Aspasia is Miah Persson and few if any can challenge her position as the leading Mozart sopranos in our time. Aspasia is a dream role with a string of pearls of wonderful arias, Mozart obviously in love with the character. She is superb in the first aria of the opera, Al destin, che la minaccia (CD 1 tr. 6) an even more so in that early masterpiece by Mozart Nel grave tormento (CD 2 tr. 13). She also handles the recitatives with great skill and dramatic insight, and she has another highlight in the last act cavatina Pallid’ ombre, che scorgete (CD 3 tr. 8). Her counterpart in the Hager recording is Arleen Auger, who arguably was the Mozartean prima donna assoluta some forty years ago. They are both outstanding and if Miah Persson has the edge on her rival it has to do with her greater involvement.

The rest of the ensemble on the new recording are fresh and youthful but the competition is keen. Sophie Bevan’s Sifare has to compete with a young Edita Gruberova in freshest voice. Although Ms Bevan has admirable coloratura technique, Gruberova at slightly slower speed is more secure and has more character – even if some of her coloratura is very similar to a little dog barking. I’m talking of the first act aria Parto: Nel gran cimento. When we reach act II and the noble aria Lungi da te, mio bene (CD 2 tr. 11), the one with the French horn, splendidly played by Gavin Edwards, she grows to the challenge and is close to the equal of Gruberova, not least through her lovely pianissimo singing. This is one of the great moments in the opera and one senses more than an embryo to the dramatic music to come within a decade.

Sifare is Mitridate’s younger son. As his younger son, Farnace, we hear the excellent counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo — what an ever-growing number of fantastic counter-tenors we have today. The young Agnes Baltsa for Hager is very good but Zazzo’s bright and vibrant tone and dramatic involvement is even better suited to the role. Gone are the days when counter-tenors were just faint and bloodless copies of real mezzos. This is full-blooded singing of the first order.

The somewhat secondary role of Ismene — she has only one aria in each act — was sung by one of my eternal favourites, Ileana Cotrubas, on the Hager recording. Her rather occluded tone and sensitive phrasing made her one of the most touching lyric sopranos of her generation. She is a lovely Ismene, but Klara Ek, Swedish like Miah Persson, is in no way inferior. Her voice is quite different from that of Cotrubas: bright, clear and beautiful, she has a fine trill and her phrasing is extremely musical. Her act I aria, In faccia all’aggetto (CD 1 tr. 23) was a revelation. She is very good in the recitatives and the following two arias just confirm her excellence. It is a lovely voice and she has all the technical attributes as well. Just lend an ear to the “original” aria on CD 4.

The minor roles as Marzio and Arbate are also well taken and the recording is vivid and lifelike. While I will not scrap the old Hager recording it now has a worthy competitor or, if you like, replacement that should be attractive to all Mozart lovers.

Musicweb International, Göran Forsling

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.

Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

The latest set of the 14-year-old Mozart’s first opera seria takes the available tally to seven (not to mention five DVD Mitridates) – an astonishing reversal of fortune for a work unknown not so long ago, and dismissed in history books as precocious but immature. This new one, though complete and fastidiously presented, with a valuable appendix CD of original-version arias rejected by their original performers, cannot be said to sweep the board; but it does posess one outstanding feature. 

Barry Banks delivers a dazzlingly authoritative account of the title role, a capricious autocrat brilliantly characterised by continual volleys above the stave. A front-rank lighter-weight Rosini tenor, he may not possess the bronzed tones of Bruce Ford (whose celebrated Mitridate can be admired in two different Covent Garden DVDs and a Salzburg CD set); but from the start he throws off notes and words with such fearless hauteur that all comparisons soon cease. 

At the poim of the king’s entrance, late in Act 1, the performance begins to take on heat; earlier it seems somewhat tamely conducted, not helped by the recorded sound’s lack in immediacy. There’s impressive singing from sopranos Miah Persson and Sophie Bevan in leading roles and Klara Ek and Anna Devin in supporting ones, plus a fruity countertenor villain from Lawrence Zazzo. But for a far livelier overall impression, Mitridate newcomers should try Christophe Rousset’s Decca set, which features matchless contributions from oprano Natalie Dessayand mezzo-soprano Cecilia Barcoli.

Max Loppert, BBC Music Magazine

Ian Page’s admirable cycle of Mozart’s dramatic works continues with its biggest challenge yet, the first of the operas composed for the Regio Teatro Ducale in Milan, where it was first given in December 1770. Even more remarkable than the fact of a 14 year-old boy being commissioned to write an opera for what was at the time one of Europe’s leading opera houses is the success he made of the opera. It was a success achieved, too, in the face of considerable demands from his singers, recognised here by the inclusion of a fourth CD including alternative arias. A fully-fledged dramma per musica, Mitridate shows a Mozart fully abreast of developments that were leading opera seria away from strict formulae. Full da capo and dal segno arias are almost entirely absent, while acts 2 and 3 both include remarkable alternations of accompagnato arias to create closed scenas, the former an impressive sequence for the lovers Aspasia and Sifare at the height of their plight. The libretto is based on Racine’s play of the same name. Its background is the struggle of the historical King Mithridates against the Romans, but at its heart lies the emotional turmoil ensuing from the love for Aspasia of three men: Mitridate himself and both his sons, Sifare and Farnace. Of particular interest is Mozart’s obvious sympathy with the latter, the ‘black sheep’ whose late (if unlikely) recantation not only inspires one of the work’s finest arias, but is an early example of the the of reconciliation that runs so powerfully through the composer’s operas. 

 

The new recording runs up against stern opposition in the shape of Christoph Rousset’s 1999 Decca, an exceptionally strongly cast set. Given that it features a less starry cast that in general copes well with the formidable demands of Mozart’s coloratura writing is greatly to the credit of the newcomer. Miah Persson, one of the few successes of the generally disappointing 2~14 Drottningholm production of the opera, is an especially strong Aspasia. As in previous issues in the series, lan Page’s direction is sure-footed and stylish, drawing strong orchestral playing and showing an unerring feel for the overall pace of the opera. And in this age of ever more flamboyant and distracting continuo realisations, it is a pleasure it is to hear them given their correct function, that of providing a bass foundation. 

Early Music Review, Brian Robins

Nobody has done more to open our ears to the seeds of genius in the young Mozart than Ian Page, by the simple expedient of taking his early music seriously. Page’s conducting of Classical Opera can be hit-and-miss in concert but on record that frantic edge gets toned down and this massive project to record all Mozart’s operas is a trillion times more musically valuable than, for example, Sony’s folie de vanite with Theodor Currentzis. Still, three hours of any 14-year-old’s opera seria is likely to have its longueurs, and so it proves. Everything is very respectable: singing, playing, tempi, commitment – but it doesn’t catch fire. There is a certain ploddy-bass quality too much of the time (Mozart’s fault as well as Page’s), and certainly much of the music is standard-issue, perfectly OK but unexciting. What grabs the attention are the moments when Mozart already seems to transcend his models, with an emotional restlessness, a particular instrumental colour or vocal line whose ultimate destination we can discern in the future.

Opera Now

Andrew McGregor: After last week’s Building a Library on Mozart’s opera Die Entfuhung aus dem Serail I promised to get my ears across a brand new early Mozart opera that had just arrived, Mitridate rei di Ponto; the latest in Classical Opera and conductor Ian Page’s ambitious project to record every Mozart opera. With Mitridate they’ve arrived at his first large-scale, full length stage work. In fact it’s a monster – commissioned during the 14-year-old composer’s first visit to Italy, and a considerable success for him in Milan in 1770.

Immediately the cast looks attractive; Barry Banks, Miah Persson, Sophie Bevan and Laurence Zazzo. They need to be on top form as the precocious teenager pulls no punches. His first solo aria for Aspasia sees Miah Persson at the outer limits of her range, leaping and running all over the shop with commendable ease and elegance. It’s almost all solo aria and recitative – so here’s one of the only ensembles; the duet which ends the second act…

[music]

The duet that ends the second act of Mozart’s early opera Mitridate rei di Ponto. Miah Persson and Sophie Bevan as the lovers with Ian Page conducting Classical Opera in new this complete recording – and more complete than any other; they’ve recorded the whole opera as it was first performed on three CDs and added a fourth disc of some of Mozart’s original versions and a couple of completions. While there are few if any moments that give you advanced warning of what’s to come from Mozart, it is astonishing that this confident, dramatically persuasive score came from the pen of an adolescent a month shy of his fifteenth birthday. This performance is as committed and engaging if you could wish for; the hours – almost four if you include those extras – fly by. It’s almost budget price as well with essay texts and translations, and that’s new from Signum Classics.

BBC Radio 3 CD Review, Andrew McGregor

The almost 15-year-old Mozart’s first opera seria (Milan, 1770) was performed 22 times but not revived again until 1970. The Orchestra of Classical Opera play with admirable flexibility during the Overture, from the delicacy of the Andante grazioso to the energy of the ensuing Presto. From the outset, lan Page nurtures a performance that crackles, beguiles, thrills and moves by turns exactly as Mozart’s opera requires – and plenty of the credit must go to the expert continuo duo of Andrew Skidmore (cello) and Steven Devine (harpsichord), who ensure that the recitatives flow with theatrical awareness but without distracting fuss.

The tyrant Mitridate has extraordinary leaps hurling to the uppermost reaches of his voice, whether the music is designed to portray gentle catharsis upon arriving home safely from war (‘Se di lauri il crine adorno’, which took Mozart several attempts to satisfy the dificuIt tenor Guglielmo d’Ettore) or jealous shouts of ‘perfidi’ when condemning both of his sons to death (‘Gia di pieta mi spoglio’). At either emotional extreme, Barry Banks dispatches the fiendish demands of the role with impressive security and vividness. Sifare’s ‘Lungi da te, mio bene’ portrays his juxtaposed feelings of bliss and melancholy: he has just realised Aspasia requites his love but she instructs him sorrowfully to stay away from her in order to preserve her honour (Gavin Edwards’s poignant horn obbligato forms an exquisite dialogue with Sophie Bevan’s Sifare). Miah Persson’s compassionate artistry and vocal intelligence seem tailor made for the scene in which Aspasia contemplates being forced to drink poison (‘Pallid’ombre’). The seditious Farnace is the anti-hero who eventually turns into his nation’s redeemer, evolving from the sneering arrogance and punchy defiance of his father in ‘Venga pur, minacci e frema’ (Lawrence Zazzo hints at dysfunctional torment) to a penitent regret of his treason and a desire to make amends ill ‘Gia dagli occhi ill velo e tolto’.

Klara Ek’s supple singing as the jilted Ismene, Robert Murray’s over-confident Roman tribune Marzio and Anna Devin’s anxious Arbate round off a consistent cast Without any weak Iinks. Classical Opera’s achievement is at least the equal of any version hitherto in the opera’s distinguished discography, and Page also offers an entire extra album’s worth of alternative versions of seven arias and a duet, most of them rejected by the fussy Milanese company of singers, who demanded that the malleable teenager scrap his first ideas and replace them with alternative settings more to their liking.

Gramophone

Written for Milan when Mozart was 14, this ambitious opera seria, based on a play by Racine, is often considered by scholars to be a turning point in the composer’s teenage career. Although tiresomely prolix and somewhat relentless in its grandstanding vocal exhibitionism, it certainly shows his fast-developing confidence: the first scenes are much duller and more conventional than the later ones, which in arias such as "Lungi da te" and "Pallid’ ombre" contain flashes of the maturity and originality of ldomeneo.

What the opera entirely lacks, however, is any sense of dramatic pacing and psychological differentiation or the command of ensemble technique that so enriches the mood and characterisation of the later collaborations with da Ponte. 

This excellent recording is probably the one that Mozart completists will want to have: it contains not only unflaggingly stylish virtuosic singing by Barry Banks (Mitridate), Miah Persson (Aspasia), Sophie Bevan (Sifare) and Lawrence Zazzo (Farnace) but also a useful compendium of seven previously unrecorded arias and a duet "jettisoned or adapted before the first performance". The supporting soloists are also first rate, and Ian Page and the Orchestra of the Classical Opera company provide exemplary accompaniment throughout.

Daily Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen

The latest addition to Classical Opera’s ongoing traversal of Mozart’s operas closely follows on the heels of the generally disappointing new Drottningholm production of Mitridate (1770), Mozart’s first Milanese opera seria (see pp. 1402-3). Mitridate has the advantage of a strong storyline based on a tragedie by Racine. It deals not only with the real-life opposition of King Mithridates to the Romans, but also the complex emotional conflicts that arise as a result of a father and his two sons (Sifare and Farnace) loving the same woman, Mitridate’s betrothed Aspasia. Into this melting pot, the 14-year-old Mozart poured a diversity of arias exploring extreme emotions he could have known little about, only sensed. Not everything works, but moments such as the crucial parting of Aspasia and Sifare at the heart of Act 2 find the young Mozart rising to the challenge of conveying all the noble heartbreak of the beleaguered lovers in a remarkable sequence of accompanied recitative and aria that also suggests he was well abreast of reform developments. 

This performance under lan Page is a first-rate ensemble effort in an opera that carries no passengers when it comes to vocal pyrotechnics. Barry Banks brings his light-toned lyric tenor heroically to bear on the cruelly demanding title role. His Aspasia, Miah Persson, the one outstanding success at Drottningholm, is arguably even better here, singing a strongly-characterized performance in excellently enunciated Italian. As the two brothers in political and emotional conflict, Sophie Bevan (Sifare) and Lawrence Zazzo (Farnace) bring an agile fluency to bear on their arias; the latter’s fine Act 3 aria in which he renounces his past misdemeanours is affectingly sung although it remains dramatically unconvincing (the original Racine did not introduce this unlikely recantation). Klara Ek is charmingly dignified as the Ilia-like princess Ismene, the woman rejecte. d by Farnace. Anna Devin and Robert Murray complete the cast in satisfying fashion. 

Page’s strong credentials as a Mozartian are enhanced with each new issue in the series; here, tempos are always well judged and he finds greater degrees of light and shade than has sometimes been the case. The contentious cello continuo chords noted in previous issues in this series appear to have been abandoned. This splendid achievement, a genuine rival to Christophe Rousset’s star-studded 1999 Decca version, is given added documentary value by the inclusion of a fourth CD containing the original versions of eight arias the teenage Mozart changed at the behest of his cast.

Opera Magazine, Brian Robins