Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mozart: Mitridate, Re di Ponto – M22 (Part 1: Make Room for Daddy)

Here is the setup: Aspasia is supposed to marry King Mitridate (whom they think died in battle); but she falls mutually in love with his son Sifare; Farnace is also in love with Aspasia, but he is supposed to marry Ismene. They all express themselves in beautiful but lengthy arias. It sounds challenging but I think it’s worth it. Stick with the weird Mozarts and the odd initial behavior of the principals; patience is rewarded. Let the games begin!
I finally figured out the opening of this production. Since the Overture has nothing musically to do with the opera, the director has devised activities to mirror the youthfulness of Mozart and of the four young royals.  The bug-eyed Mozarts pose and battle. The young royals play, too; they are their carefree in the absence of their father.

Ah, youth! 
(the music starts at about 1'45")

The princes mature over the span of this opera; tussling and pushing, and punching a lot in the first two acts. Farnace is both a brat and a bully: aggressive toward Sifare and Aspasia, and nasty to Ismene.  Both princes move from defiance to loyalty towards their father. While it takes Farnace nearly the whole opera to mature, Sifare seems to get it together a bit sooner.

The playing area is divided in two levels. The upper area has a huge mirror suspended above it, and the Mozarts appear in several other scenes (as other characters), creating some interesting visuals. Mitridate is the only principal who regularly appears on high, descending for some dialog and the aria in which he condemns nearly everyone to death.
This is Mitridate, and he is not happy!
(Aspasia and Ismene each ascend to appeal to him once or twice, but it doesn’t help.)  The lower area is where the four young royals spend most of their time. The playing area is very shallow, backed by a huge whiteboard which is also a row of hidden doors, so the action is confined to the front of the stage.

Conductor Mark Minkowski and director Günter Krämer made some edits and adjustments to the drama, moving or cutting a few arias and trimming the recitative. Unless you are a Mozart scholar, you probably won’t notice or be bothered by this.
One reason for the changes was to accommodate Krämer’s scheme of keeping the four young royals on stage for the entire opera. Combined with the very shallow lower playing area, this constricts the action and emphasizes how closely intertwined the characters’ lives are. The claustrophobia increases in Act 3 when Sifare, Farnace, and Aspasia are all blindfolded and tethered together, awaiting their execution.

With skillful Personenregie*, Krämer keeps the singers busy, whether singing or not. There is activity even during the most static of arias. (And there are a lot of arias; this is opera seria, remember.)  There is always something to hold attention, yet not be distracting. 

For some thoughts about the singing in this production, stay tuned for part 2.

*The art of directing the actors, as opposed to creating the concept and leaving the actors on their own to figure out their characters

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