ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Mitridate re di ponto
PERFORMER: Bruce Ford, Cyndia Sieden, Christiane Oelze, Vesselina Kasarova, Heidi Grant Murphy, Toby Spence, Larissa Rudakova; Camerata Salzburg/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: C 703 0621
Mozart wrote this opera when he was only 14 years old, but don’t let that fool you. It is full of brilliant music, guaranteed to tax all but world class singers – especially in live performance. Consequently we might need some special reasons to buy this live 1997 Salzburg Festival version with its inevitable balance issues, its cuts in the material, and its lack of a printed libretto.
The first is that it is conducted by Roger Norrington who brings terrifically fresh and incisive orchestral detail to the score. The second is that in Bruce Ford it has the best Mitridate in the business. Beyond that, things are rather less persuasive.
Norrington’s belief that we all perform Mozart too slowly gives great energy especially to the arias of Farnace (Kasarova), but the wonderful duet at the end of Act II between Aspasia (Sieden) and Sifare (Oelze) is too hurried to be tender, and Aspasia’s reflective ‘Pallid’ombre’ seems mechanical and unyielding for what the 18th century would have thought of as an aria di portamento. These difficulties leave the door open for the 1999 L’Oiseau-Lyre recording: this has a good lineup – Dessay (Aspasia), Sabbatini (Mitridate) and Bartoli (Sifare) – and although the first two seem slightly out of voice, the orchestral playing is excellent. But worth looking out for is the now deleted Philips version (1977), which suffers a little from the compressed sound quality but is otherwise stunning, with Augér (Aspasia), Gruberova (Sifare) and Hollweg (Mitridate) showing just what it means to combine brilliance, control and nuance. Anthony Pryer