Brexit Stage Left

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Review – Mitridate, re di Ponto (La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday 15 May 2016)

Mitridate – Michael Spyres
Sifare – Myrtò Papatanasiu
Farnace – David Hansen
Aspasia – Lenneke Ruiten
Ismeme – Simona Šaturová
Arbate – Yves Saelens
Marzio – Sergey Romanovsky

Director and Costumes – Olivier Deloeuil
Lighting – Rick Martin
Video – Jean-Baptiste Beïs

Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie
Christophe Rousset (Conductor)

The most memorable production of Mitridate that I saw was at Covent Garden – an excellent cast in Graham Vick’s Eighteenth Century-inspired beautiful production that returns in 2017. La Monnaie’s production took as its starting point the current “Should I stay, or should I go?” state of European politics. In fact, some of the current posturing by both sides of the argument in the UK wouldn’t look out of place on the stage in general.

Yet this production did feel curiously dated. Perhaps it was the over-reliance on ‘live footage’ and rolling news reports at a time when most politics it seems are won and lost on social media.

However, director Deloeuil did remain faithful to the original drama and invested the singers with some credible characterisation. Making Mitridate an addict of sorts was a smart way to side-step actual poisoning but while there as something in his departure that made me think that he wouldn’t be gone for long it end did lack a suitable dramatic flourish that would have made the production more memorable.

Vocally, the standard of the performances was for the most part incredibly high with three of the performers standing out in particular. Pride of place goes to Simona Šaturová incredibly impressive Ismene. Her bright soprano had a real sense of depth and richness, with a beautiful legato line, impressive and clear coloratura and tasteful embellishments. Her confident stage presence captured the conflicting emotions of Ismene perfectly.

The eloquent delivery of So quanto a te dispiace not only demonstrated her vocal agility but the beauty and evenness of her tone throughout it range. And the nobility of Tu sai per che m’accesse – reminiscent of JC Bach – as one of the highlights of the entire performance, with Ms Saturova not only spinning out the vocal lines with great ease but also demonstrating some tasteful ornamentation.

David Hansen captured Farnace arrogance both musically as well as dramatically. He must be, in Mozart’s early operas, one of the most unlikeable characters. From his first appearance, he strutted across the stage like a spoilt oligarch’s son. Venga pur, minacci – a staple of many a countertenor recital disc – captured this arrogance perfectly, which was then echoed in the dramatic and vocal bravado in Va, l’error mio palesa and Son reo, l’error confesso. Dramatically, his scena in the closing act, Vadasi … Oh ciel … Già dagli occhi with its sumptuous orchestration and the sustained vocal line that unwinds above it, was a perfect vehicle for Hansen’s talents.

Completing the trio, Lenneke Ruiten possesses formidable technique and a bell-like soprano that negotiated the music that Mozart wrote for his original Aspasia with aplomb. Al destin, che la minaccia is an early show-stopper, with Ms Ruiten throwing off the coloratura with incredible ease before showing a more dramatic bent in Nel sen mi palpita and her two scenas, Grazie ai numi partì … Nel grave tormento and Ah ben ne fui presaga!.. Pallid’Ombre. Again the former aria shows a certain indebtedness to the London Bach in terms of its gentle orchestration and vocal line. Ms Ruiten sang it with great control – balancing the emotions of the contrasting sections both vocally and dramatically.

Michael Spyres – who I last saw in Donizetti’s Les Martyrs – bought his imposing tenor to bear as Mitridate. Without a doubt his delivery of the role was as effortless as it was confident – witnessed by an imposing Se di lauri il crine adorno, however his voice sounded at times too heavy for this Mozartian role and I am not sure it was as entirely authentic as it could have been.

Personally, and despite ringing cheers from the audience at the end, Myrtò Papatanasiu was disappointing as Sifare. While she possesses a bright and agile soprano, there were signs of strain and stress that on occasion led to intonation problems, uneven tone and a brittle and harsh edge in her upper register. Lunga di te in particular exposed these fault lines, a fact not helped by the painfully slow tempo that Rousset elected to take.

The orchestra played well under Rousset’s baton but I was surprised at some of the slower-than-expected tempos that he elected to take the music. At times slowing the drama to almost a standstill.

It’s still rare to see Mozart’s earlier operas – or his opera serie at all – which is a shame. While it wasn’t in the same league as Vick’s insightful production, by staying almost true to the original dramatic intent and fielding a strong cast, this production of Mitridate demonstrated that they can be compelling.



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