Mitridate, Re di Ponto review – spectacular Mozart fireworks in sweet-wrapper costumes

Royal Opera House, London
Christophe Rousset conducts an impressive cast in Graham Vick’s colourful, energised account of Mozart’s early opera

It’s 26 years since Mitridate first stamped self-consciously downstage, all canary-yellow silk, shining breastplate and lustrous locks, in Graham Vick’s production of Mozart’s early opera. It was something of a milestone at the time – the Handel revival hadn’t yet worked up its full head of steam, and it was still a relatively novel idea that an overlong, over-serious opera by a callow 14-year-old composer, following all the mid 18th-century conventions, could be presented seriously and stylishly for a late 20th-century audience. The tropes Vick settled on have been reused so many times that they have lost their novelty – these big expanses of bold poster-paint colour were last seen in ENO’s Pirates of Penzance, an opera sending up operas like this. And the older, wiser Mozart would write arias that were less obviously difficult, and fewer of them: Mitridate is very long. But in this often very fine performance, with the Royal Opera Orchestra energised by period specialist conductor Christophe Rousset, it is worth it.

Albina Shagimuratova as Aspasia and Michael Spyres as Mitridate.
Albina Shagimuratova as Aspasia and Michael Spyres as Mitridate. Photograph: Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images

The first things you notice – and the last – are Paul Brown’s costumes. Aspasia, the princess desired by King Mitridate and both his sons, glides around in a surreally exaggerated panniered skirt at least six feet across. If this were a David Lynch film its two sides would rise like curtains to reveal, instead of legs, another stage, and another, tiny production of Mitridate. In sheer width she outguns the men, pseudo-Japanese warriors in brightly coloured yet more modestly panniered outfits and half armour – part highly polished armadillo, part Quality Street. If it came to it, Albina Shagimuratova would win in the vocal stakes, too: there’s some loss of intensity in her quiet third-act aria, but the firework numbers are superbly full-toned.

Countertenor Bejun Mehta, dressed as the green praline triangle, runs her close as bad brother Farnace; good brother Sifare, dressed as the coconut one nobody likes, is a little dull by comparison, though Salome Jicia makes lovely work of her horn-accompanied aria. The lucky hazelnut-in-caramel is the Roman leader Marzio, in which role tenor Rupert Charlesworth is a late stand-in, as he was in ENO’s Partenope last autumn. Once again he steals his scenes.

Michael Spyres’s tenor has sounded more mellifluous in less arduous roles than Mitridate, but he’s equal to Mozart’s two-octave leaps, and his furious vengeance aria is especially impressive. Posing like a dancing girl carved on the wall of a far-eastern temple, Lucy Crowe brings presence to the foreign princess Ismene, and sings beautifully. Radio 3 is broadcasting the performance on 8 July, but it should really be seen as well as heard.

• At Royal Opera House, London, until 7 July. Box office: 020-7304 4000.

Lucy Crowe as Ismene.
Lucy Crowe as Ismene. Photograph: Bill Cooper


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Opera review: Mitridate, re di Ponto, Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Soprano Aleksandra Kurzak shone with a lovely bloom to her sound as well as instrumental agility, says Rian Evans

Rian Evans

03, Jun, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Il Trovatore review – tanks, selfies and operatic teamwork
David Bösch’s production, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, commendably looks to its ensemble to bring connection and drama to Verdi’s blood-curdling tragedy

Martin Kettle

03, Jul, 2016 @1:53 PM

Article image
Tannhäuser review – musically strong but an awkward production
Peter Seiffert impresses in the lead role and Christian Gerhaher is a standout Wolfram, but the flaws remain in Tim Albery’s 2010 take on Wagner’s opera

Tim Ashley

27, Apr, 2016 @2:06 PM

Article image
Der Rosenkavalier review – big guns and young lovers overcome stage obstacles
Renée Fleming leads a fine cast including Alice Coote, Sophie Bevan and Matthew Rose in a production whose romantic comedy plays out against a distractingly over-the-top backdrop

Andrew Clements

18, Dec, 2016 @2:30 PM

Article image
La Bohème, Royal Opera House review - efficient but antiseptic production generates passion only in the pit
Richard Jones’s new staging of Puccini’s opera is uncontroversial and precise, but Nicole Car is a touching Mimi and Antonio Pappano’s conducting is superb

Andrew Clements

12, Sep, 2017 @11:28 AM

Article image
Written on Skin review – Hannigan is spellbinding in parable of beauty and violence
Soprano Barbara Hannigan revisits the role created for her in George Benjamin’s tale of sexual jealousy and artistic revelation, interpreted forensically by Katie Mitchell

Tim Ashley

15, Jan, 2017 @11:39 AM

Article image
Werther review – Massenet’s dark emotions evoked with passion
Antonio Pappano and the ROH orchestra outshine the drama in this atmospheric revival of Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 production

George Hall

21, Jun, 2016 @11:27 AM

Article image
Madama Butterfly review – the whole evening is outstanding
This revival of Leiser and Caurier’s production of Puccini’s tragedy is a superb achievement, with Ermonela Jaho bringing passionate conviction to the title role

Tim Ashley

28, Mar, 2017 @11:49 AM

Article image
Il Trovatore review – dispiriting Verdi revival lacks focus
Anita Rachvelishvili is a thrilling Azucena and Richard Farnes brings emotional subtlety to the score, but David Bösch’s production is patchy

Tim Ashley

05, Dec, 2016 @1:01 PM

Article image
Semiramide review – Rossini sounds sublime in Alden's eccentric staging
Outstanding performances by Joyce DiDonato, Lawrence Brownlee and Daniela Barcellona illuminate David Alden’s occasionally cluttered vision of this Rossini rarity

Tim Ashley

21, Nov, 2017 @1:43 PM