W.A. Mozart: Mitridate re di Ponto
08 March 2010
This is the third complete recording of Mozart's first opera seria, written when the lad was in Milan at the age of 14. Clocking in at about two hours and 45 minutes, with 23 arias, one duet, a tiny final chorus, and acres of recitative, it can be a chore. But despite its great length, Mitridate was a great hit at its premiere.
I reviewed a live performance of the work led by Roger Norrington (type Q10839 in Search Reviews) in which I offered a brief synopsis, and I refer you to it should you want to know what the opera is (vaguely) about. In that favorable review I compared the performance with the even better one on Decca starring Cecilia Bartoli and Natalie Dessay under Christophe Rousset. The opera contains many showpiece arias, with plenty of fiorature, octave leaps, and one aria for the (tenor) title character with seven high Cs.
This new recording, led by Adam Fischer, comes on the heels of a superb reading of Lucio Silla featuring the Danish Radio Sinfonietta and a couple of the same, little-known Scandinavian singers; sad to say, it is not quite in the same class. Fischer's conducting and the orchestral playing remain superb--crisp, energetic, with dramatic moments well underlined, and tempos well chosen. Just listen to Sifare's lengthy Act 2 aria with obbligato horn to appreciate the quality of the orchestra. At the same time, Fischer sculpts the (thankfully somewhat pared down) recits for dramatic detail and makes the characters breathe as best he can. He is let down, however, by a couple of his singers.
Tenor Mathias Zachariassen in the title role exhibits an inflexible, nasty sound; oddly, he's only acceptable in the aria featuring the repeated high Cs that requires no agility or subtlety. His attempts at a trill are dreadful. Similarly, Lisa Larsson is not up to the role of Princess Ismene; both Heidi Grant Murphy and Sandrine Piau have more character and sing with more accuracy (and real trills).
In the very important roles of Farnace and Sifare, mezzo Kristina Hammarström and soprano Maria Fontosh are excellent, but in the latter role the competition comes out ahead. Henriette Bonde-Hansen is terrific in the high-flying role of Aspasia (Dessay sings it for Rousset). The small role of Marzio is poorly sung here by Andres Dahlin; Juan Diego Florez and Toby Spence are far better. And so the verdict is in: this set takes third place. At its best--orchestrally and in the crucial role of Farnace--this set is a winner, but the competition is too strong elsewhere.
Artistic Quality: 7
Sound Quality: 9