Golden Moral Theater – Mozart’s “Mithridates, King of Pontus” at the Berlin State Opera | nmz

It is always fascinated and amazed how the young Mozart, almost a boy, sets to music the story of a king and warlord in decline, whose two very different sons love the same woman, who is also his own bride: a mix of pathos and passion, representation and emotion, political-military and amorous plots.

The then 14-year-old Wolfgang was commissioned to compose the three-act work during his first trip to Italy, which he undertook with his father Leopold Mozart. It was to open the 1770/71 season at the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan. However, Mozart did not receive the libretto until four months later, meaning he had to complete the composition within five months. The success was astounding.

The show takes place in Asia Minor around 63 BC The story is about the confrontation between two powers: one Asian and one European, Pontus and Rome. The focus of the plot is the relationship between King Mithridates (Mithridates) and his two sons Xiphares (Sifare) and Farnace (Farnace). All three covet young Aspasia. She is engaged to Mithridates, but her heart belongs to someone else. Mozart described the war of succession and the inevitable betrayal in passionate music that speaks of obscure state policies, serious ethical-moral conflicts, campaigns of conquest, conflicting rulers.

According to the rules of opera seria, the “serious” Italian opera, “Mitridate – Re di Ponto” includes a wealth of virtuosic arias. The work corresponds to the genre’s typical blend of love intrigue and act of state. The characters are torn between duty and passion. Tokyo-born director Satoshi Miyagi talks about moral theater. As he points out in the program booklet: “The last piece of the opera, an ensemble, is ostensibly about revenge, but the last scene is meant to bring reconciliation to the opposite. My goal would be achieved when the audience feels that the souls of the dead rest in peace instead of asking for vengeance, and that infinite peace is possible after war. In any case, I would be very happy if this message were understood and listened to”.

In his production, which is based on the tradition of Noh and Kabuki theatre, he presents the play as a conciliatory anti-war play, probably not without reason given current world politics. “There have always been times when religion and political-military power have met. Showing respect for religious or spiritual feelings is one of the goals of the production, but at the same time it should also show how political and military forces work. The model for our stage design is the Potala Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, which is a religious as well as a political center, thus representing both sides. At the beginning and end of the show, however, we do not see this magnificent temple building, but a burnt city, which is supposed to commemorate Tokyo in 1945, destroyed by air raids.

Stepped-up podiums flanked by stairways with Asian-style painted revolving doors are the entrance and exit surfaces of the vocal soloists, dancers and extras, who are pushed back and forth like model-like cardboard figures, with no trace of psychological leadership. On the contrary, ritual static and extreme artificiality. It is probably the first time that this opera by Mozart has been staged by an Asian director in Europe.

Architect and stage designer Junpei Kiz designed the opulent stage. Its aesthetic, like the staging of Satoshi Miyagi and his team, is magical. A gold rush. The choice of gold color has more to do with Mozart than Japanese theatre. Coloring many things with gold was the idea of ​​costume designer Kayo Takahashi Deschene, who designed all the costumes in Asian gold, including the animal “spirits” that are attached to the figures: a lion for Mithridates, a dragon for Sifare, a phoenix for Aspasia or an eagle for Ismene. One thinks one is listening to a (Japanese!) Turandot rather than a work by Mozart, all the more so as the ensigns, the military ballet and other actors have something propaganda and surprising about them. (Choreography: Yu Otagaki). The artificial language of movement fascinates and alienates at the same time.

Satoshi Miyagi shows images rather than action, lateral movements, the “freezing” of postures, in which the figures appear as if captured with a camera. Moments are captured and fixed: time stands still for the duration of this state. As the director admits, “All the characters in ‘Mithridates’ are people of high rank, not ‘common’ people, but ‘historical giants’. The audience should experience these characters from above, so to speak, and they always seem very artificial, very far from reality». He’s not wrong, because this is where Italian serious opera and Japanese kabuki theater meet. There are a surprising number of similarities in their basic structures, both highly artificial. This connection is conveyed directly in the beautiful and luxurious staging. The fact that it is long is also due to the long recitatives.

Musically, however, this outstanding production is in the best hands of Marc Minkowski, who has already rehearsed the work in Paris and Salzburg, as well as a CD– Production manager. He directs Les Musiciens du Louvre, which play music with captivating fury and all imaginable technical and stylistic delicacy.

Seven virtuoso singers from all over the world, all proven specialists of baroque ornamental singing, compete in an international festival of Mozart’s songs of superlatives. It had been a long time since we had heard so much vocal culture, artistic refinement (without fear of the piano) and a beautiful voice. This much vocal virtuosity and brilliance in one performance is a rarity.

To die WE-American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sings a seductive sifare. French Cypriot soprano Sarah Aristidou is a delightful Ismene. Romanian-born soprano Ana Maria Labin shines as Aspasia. The mezzo-soprano Adriana Bignagni Les from Gabon sings the arbate. The Malagasy tenor Sahy Ratia sings a fabulous Marzio. Samoan tenor Rene Pati sings a vocally stunning Mithridates with almost unbelievable treble. Outstanding countertenor Paul-Antoine Benos-Djian stunned as Farnace. There is no need to argue about the casting of the roles, some of them written for castrati (at the premiere), one is surprised, but one allows a fair amount of subjectivity to Marc Minkowski, who all in all gave the Berlin State Opera a celebrated a great moment that was greeted frantically by the audience.

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