ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
PERFORMER: Michael Spyres, Patricia Petibon, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Christophe Dumaux, Sabine Devieilhe, Cyrille Dubois, Jaël Azzaretti; Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm; dir. Frédérique Plain (Paris, 2016)
CATALOGUE NO: 9029585175
If any of the early operas by Mozart prove his genius beyond doubt then it is Mitridate, written for Milan when he was 14. It concerns the conflict between Mithridates VI of Pontus in Northern Anatolia and the Roman Empire, during the course of which he dies and one of his sons (Xiphares) marries his wife (Aspasia) and inherits the kingdom, while the other (Pharnaces) marries a Parthian Princess (Ismene). This is a grand opera seria with a libretto adapted from Racine’s play Mithridate – hence the set is based on the conceit that they are in a theatre and reading and singing the Racine text (though the libretto is in Italian). Owing to the length of the opera many of the recitatives are shortened, and one or two of the arias have changed places.
This is a really good cast. Patricia Petibon’s daunting but brilliant first aria as Aspasia, ‘Al destin’, is sung with panache and nonchalant control. Michael Spyres negotiates the great vocal leaps in the part of Mitridate (a trick of the creator of the role, Guglielmo d’Ettore) very nicely, and there are also moments of enchanting lyricism (the aria ‘Se di lauri’). Among the others, the soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu in the castrato role of Xiphares is the best. Her ‘Lungi da te’ with its horn obbligato accompaniment is heart-stoppingly beautiful and the countertenor Christophe Dumaux as Pharnaces certainly knows how to serve up a chilling revenge aria (‘Venga pur’). Sabine Devieilhe as Ismene attracts particularly loud applause for stratospheric decorations in ‘In faccia’. As always with Emmanuelle Haïm the orchestral playing is rhythmically alert and goal-directed. Of the other DVD versions available this does not quite match the Covent Garden version with Bruce Ford and Jochen Kowalsi, but it surpasses the Opera National de Lyon account with Rockwell Blake and Yvonne Kenny.