Munich Opera Festival’s new Mitridate Re di Ponto

GermanyGermany  Mozart, Mitridate, Re di Ponto: Soloists, Bavarian State Orchestra, Ivor Bolton (conductor) Prinzregententheater Munich. 26.7.2011. (JMI)

New Production, Bavarian State Opera

Direction: David Bösch
Sets: Patrick Bannwart
Costumes: Falko Herold
Lighting: Michael Bauer


Mitridate: Barry Banks
Aspasia: Patricia Petibon
Sifare: Anna Bonitatibus
Farnace: Lawrence Zazzo
Ismene: Lisette Oropesa
Arbate: Eri Nakamura
Marzio: Alexey Kudrya


Production picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

The Munich Opera Festival offered two new productions this year, Saint François d’Assise and Mitridate, Re di Ponto. David Bosch-already at work in Munich with L’Elisir last year (S&H review here)-got to stage Mozart’s teenager-opera and produced it as a survey of developmental stages:

The first act offers war, as seen through the mind of the children that Mitridate left behind when going to fight against the Romans. Projections of children’s comics on the semicircle stage offers refer to war and the relationships between the different characters. When Mitridate returns in the second act, things change and the projections become more serious, and the comics scarce. In the last act violence and blood become the real protagonists, first with Farnace cutting his eyes like Oedipus, in his remorse scene after killing Marzio, and then with death-after forgiving his sons-of Mithridates. It is a production that works well and manages to give life to a static opera. The action and costumes are modern in a timeless sort of way and there was some excellent lighting going on.

The successful musical direction was Ivor Bolton’s. His reading was not as exciting and moving as that of Mark Minkowski in Salzburg some six years ago, but he succeeded to give life to a score that can get too long in other hands. The members of the orchestra that played for him turned in one of the best performances of this Festival.

Mitridate was sung by British tenor Barry Banks, a light tenor in the line of a Rossini contraltino, and as such did well, but I missed more vocal weight in the character, which for me requires more a Rossini-esque baritenor. French soprano Patricia Petibon was Aspasia, King Mitridate’s fiancée, who is left in charge of his sons, Farnace and Sifare, when he parts. Aspasia is secretly in love with Sifare, whom she finally marries after the death of Mitridate. Aspasia’s character requires a lyric soprano that foreshadows the vocal demands Mozart would later make on interpreters of Fiordiligi. It’s rare to see this character cast well, as it is usually sung by a light soprano with an easy coloratura. That’s what happened this time, too: Patricia Petibon had a difficult start, practically inaudible at the low notes during her first aria. Her performance improved in the second act, benefiting greatly from her vocal agility-especially in her duet with Sifare.

Farnace, the son of Mitridate and ally of Rome, is usually sung by a countertenor, occasionally by a contralto. Countertenor (in this case) Lawrence Zazzo turned in an outstanding vocal and dramatic performance-perhaps not bettering Bejun Mehta’s Salzburg performance, but excellent all the same. Sifare, the other son of Mitridate, can be sung either by a mezzo or soprano with enough of a middle register. Here we had Italian mezzo Anna Bonitatibus taking a crack at it with gusto, and she, too, was truly outstanding.

Ismene, the (eventual) bride of Farnace, was the American soprano Lisette Oropesa, whose performance was remarkable: A very attractive voice and an excellent singer. Eri Nakamura was a fine Arbate and Russian tenor Alexey Kudrya, a pleasant light tenor, with easy albeit thin top notes, did well as Marzio.

José MªIrurzun