tue 23/07/2024

Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Royal Opera review - Crowe and costumes light up pointless revival | reviews, news & interviews

Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Royal Opera review - Crowe and costumes light up pointless revival

Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Royal Opera review - Crowe and costumes light up pointless revival

Good singing not enough to justify the return of Graham Vick's 1991 production

Michael Spyres as Mitridate and Albina Shagimuratova as AspasiaAll images by Bill Cooper

Why stage a stiff opera about half-frozen royals by a not-yet-divine Mozartino? The best Mitridate really deserves is one of those intimate concert performances with brilliant young singers at which Ian Page's Classical Opera excels.

Yet this is the third revival of a 1991 Royal Opera production by Graham Vick, never among his more probing psychological studies (which in any case the 14-year old Mozart, impressive but no teenage genius here, hardly deserves). The best in show is Paul Brown's colourful if restrictive costuming, and this latest cast looked very promising on paper. The actual results aren’t enough.

Only that effervescent soprano Lucy Crowe (pictured below) is fully stylish. She plays the “other” lady in the flimsy drama, the one who isn’t fought over by King Mitridate and his two sons, Farnace and Sifare (the brother the love-object in question, Aspasia, really loves). And if Crowe’s Ismene seems to get the best music, that may be due to the force of her personality – though I’d wager that her pretty slow minuet at the beginning of the third act is the only aria that comes close to the future Mozart of at-one-with-the-world gracefulness. She also wears the one costume I’d covet and carries out her Indian Kathak dance movements with real charm. Lucy Crowe in MitridateThe rest are good in parts. Albina Shagimuratova and Salome Jicia boast brilliant upper registers but need to develop their chest voices if they’re to be heard lower down. They’re not always at one with the orchestra under sprightly Christophe Rousset, though whether that’s his fault or theirs is hard to say. Countertenor Bejun Mehta (pictured below with Jicia) as the villainous brother who repents cuts a vocal dash to begin with, but all personality evaporates in his long and tedious final aria: no master of pace or substance at 14, Mozart cripples the last act with two such bog-wades, and even the big number claimed to be the best in the opera by virtue of its horn obbligato is generic. If there are any other flashes of things to come, they appear in the accompanied recitatives and the inner lining of Aspasia’s second aria, though that’s pushing it a bit.Scene from Royal Opera MitridateMichael Spyres, so good in Massenet and Berlioz recently, closes up his burnished tenor in the stratosphere as rampaging Mitridate; fellow tenor Rupert Charlesworth, a last-minute replacement for Andrew Tortise as Roman Marzio, is more consistent up there in the surprise aria he gets at the last minute, and very stylish in his coloratura, but even he shows signs of strain (maybe it would help if the orchestra were playing at authentic pitch). Beefing up king and tribune with camp movement groups might work if their execution were a little more polished. Brown’s overall look fails to cohere, much like the work as a whole. If you’re a fan of any of the singers, go along, but don’t expect anything close to a great opera.


It all boils down to taste! True, it's by no means a great opera but even teenage Mozart has more to offer than many other repertoire composers . The plot lacks action and surprise. Graham Vick compensates with beautiful colour , style and comitted performances from the singers, conductor and orchestra. Lucy Crowe- outstanding! The clothes and design were eye catching. ROH have cut the prices for this one. Well worth seeing. The Evening Standard gives it 5 stars!

Curious to know which (reasonably standard) repertoire composers you think the 14-year-old Mozart outstrips? Personally, though Handel's not always my bag, I'd rather hear any of his cod-historical/mythological entertainments.

Personally, hearing the work for the first time at the final performance on July 7th, I was struck by the limitations of the opera seria genre more forcefully than I was by those of the teenage Mozart. Handel's operas have exactly the same failings, which are those of the genre. Of course, there are better and worse examples, but it does strike me overall as the operatic mode with the most limited expressive possibilities - with the probable exception of bel canto. I think I'd rather hear Mitridate again than, say, Poliuto!

I feel the difference is that Handel nearly always makes a virtue out of necessity in a way impossible for the 14 year old Mozart. And though I'm not a paid-up member of the Handel fan club, I love his operas when they have the right casts and productions, and fancy that the Royal Opera needs to do a lot more of them before it resorts to luring folk in with the promise of a name and serving up somethng mediocre. Of course bravura singing goes a long way to disguising the weaknesses.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters