Friday, January 6, 2012

Mitridate, Rè di Bavaria

Mitridate, rè di Ponto, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, July 25 2011

Extraordinary Lawrence Zazzo as Farnace in the David Bösch production of Mitridate, rè di Ponto

Director ..... David Bösch 
Conductor ..... Ivor Bolton

Mitridate ..... Barry Banks
Aspasia ..... Patricia Petibon
Sifare ..... Anna Bonitatibus
Farnace ..... Lawrence Zazzo
Ismene ..... Lisette Oropesa
Marzio ..... Alexey Kudrya
Arbate ..... Eri Nakamura

The Bavarian State Orchestra

 Contrary to Der Rosenkavalier --that I lived like on a rollercoaster (the most unbearable snootiness I've ever experienced at the Opera, and the over-perfumed crowd cheering the old Schenk production Vs. superb singing by all 4 protagonists + tenor) but ultimately was a lesson for me never to succumb to temptation to go and see the shows because of the star singers in it-- here is a true example of the greatness of The Bavarian State Opera (BSO) in Munich: they took the arguably most challenging of the Mozart operas and made it one of the overall best shows in 2011.

Take the score and you'll see how tremendously difficult it is to sing -- with impossible passages for Aspasia, or Mitridate, and the most energy consuming Farnace -- and assembling a homogeneous, high quality, cast is very difficult. As the score exhibit the fact that Mozart was only 14 when he composed this opera, you need a conductor who can be careful enough to underline the delicacy of the numerous Idomeneo-like parts, while avoiding to indulge into specific fractions of the score and leave the rest sounding amorphous.
Finally the libretto is baroquesque, again typical for the early Mozart operas, and you need a talented and competent director, capable to give life to the metaphors in the story, instead of dumbly narrating the plot [which is what we often get from the operatic charlatans who nowadays 'produce' the early Mozart operas or those from the baroque repertoire.]

And the result after the show I saw?! Win, win, win! Big win for the BSO, and I was more than surprised to realize that they did not plan more shows during the current operatic season (2011-2012), but rather opted to present the next run of 5 shows during the Festspiele in late July 2012.

This is a rarely performed opera, extremely difficult to sing, and I'll first throw in several lines about singing. To me the most wonderful singing came from Anna Bonitatibus. She was clearly on her turf in this opera: it is close enough to baroque where she excels, and so she could have employed her incomparable interpretative skills, and yet the role was stretching her voice from the lowest to the extreme top notes, and unveiled the equal beauty of her timbre in all registers. Barry Banks impressed by his vocal capabilities and his stamina. His very tough role became practically heroic when one adds everything he had to do on the stage to incarnate Mitridate in the Bösch production [At one point he was hitting high C's while doing push-ups, and I am not kidding you!] Although better on CD than in live performances,  Patricia Petibon should be celebrated for her courage to sing the full role of Aspasia in one night, without humming anything, attacking every high note directly and in full voice. She started a bit tentatively but as the show progressed she was brilliant. Respect!  Lawrence Zazzo was my favorite performer on the night I saw the show: either he was having a particularly good evening, or the story is organized to bring the best acting and singing from him, but the truth is that he had the most remarkable scenic presence in the show, that he supported by a full command of his voice that actually exacerbated the crucial moments in the drama. It was a true pleasure to see this kind of "total performance" in an opera that is not from the Da Ponte Cycle, or from the Wagner or Berg repertoire.  I would be unfair if I didn't mention other, maybe less dominant but non-negligible roles: Lisette OropesaAlexey KudryaEri Nakamura -  top singers of their generation.
Huge bravo to all the singers, who sounded perfect in the auditorium of the Prinzregententheater.

Besides Adam Fischer, Peter Minkowski, and Thomas Hengelbrock, a true magician in the Mozart repertoire is Ivor Bolton. This opera is a relative rarity and despite his big experience it must have been a thrill for him to prepare it, to go through long episodes and figure out the way to avoid sounding routinely. Clearly him and Bösch worked together and the tempi he chose were perfectly in sync with what was happening on the stage, while the stage action was organized to reflect the moods and main threads of the libretto, without ever being decoupled from the score. Winning formula!
If you do not know the story of Mitridate, please read the synopsis here.

Since a good chunk of the story happens on the shore of Nymphæaum, the sea-gulls made of plaster are put everywhere in auditorium which prepares you for the show that follows. On the cavity looking stage you can see the painted sea-gulls too. The colors are brownish which brings the obscurity but also a necessary intimacy to the Mozart opera. The same set are later easily converted to the court-room once a large chandelier descends from above the stage.

David Bösch immediately gives us the hint of his take on this drama: during the overture a short cartoon featuring Le Petit Prince by Saint-Exupéry, is a kid who learns, learns, and suddenly unleashes his own imagination, creativity and explore the possibilities other than those he was taught.

The story is about the young sons of the King who fall in love with Aspasia, who used to be the promised Queen before the King disappeared. She was a young female figure in the life of two adolescents, and the news that their father was dead encouraged them to take extra step from their fantasies and make advances to Aspasia.
One of the sons (Sifare) is sensitive and shy in expressing his love for Aspasia, whereas the other (Farnace) is outgoing, rebellious, and defiant.   

David Bösch astutely focalizes his drama on the battle of generations. Old Vs. New, Father Vs. Son.

On one hand we have the young Farnace who goes through his rebellion age and wants to outdo his father in everything. He dismisses Ismene because his father wanted him to marry her. He plots against his father (with Marcio) because his father is the exponent of the upper (older) class [Marcio and Farnace draw a huge encircled A on the wall -- for "anarchist".] His awkward advances to Aspasia are guided by his desire to take his father's spot, rather than his actual desire for Aspasia.

On the other hand we have Mitridate who cannot accept the fact that he's getting old and he uses everything to show that he is still able and has enough power to outdo his sons: he uses his social authority and tries to exercise (in vain) his paternal authority, and he even physically demonstrates that he's not yet pas his prime (above mentioned episode with push-ups.) The more he learns about his sons' "betrayal"/defiance, the more ferocious his battle to stay on power is.

In the end, Mitridate realizes that the loss in that battle is inexorable, and incapable to accept the defeat he prepares to die. Farnace instead grows out his rebellion/anarchist age, return to his father and expresses his love for him.

The generational struggle happens on emotional, political, and personal level. It's life! It's a constant battle between old that wouldn't go away and new that boldly push its way to take the spot. The New that, at first, wants to radically change  The Old, eventually embraces the Old in its own way. 

Remember well this name opera-freaks: David Bösch!
Production photos [©Wilfried Hösl]:

Sifare and Aspasia

Sifare Bonitatibus and Aspasia Petibon

Barry Banks -- Mitridate

Abusive Mitridate is furious, realizing Aspasia is not in love with him anymore

Marzio helps Farnace showing his rage against his father -- Rè di Ponte

My cc pics:

Kudrya, Nakamura, Oropesa, Banks, Zazzp, Bonitatibus, and Petibon

Maestro Bolton -- Anna Bonitatibus applauding

Enormous performance by Lawrence Zazzo & Patricia Petibon

The orchestra joined the protagonists for the last calls


BSO Opera-TV [~10min film]:

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