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So, we’ve got a lot of eyes and a lot of people who are either unsure or unaware of other people’s intentions. It’s worth noting that in this production, characters who are not required to be there by the music or the libretto often are. While any one character is having a big moment of some kind or another, there is nearly always someone else, or several people, walking past or around them or simply watching. Or in the case of Aspasia, lying on the ground curled in a ball of sadness and poofy red dress while other things are going on. Almost nothing happens unobserved by anyone else.
And yet for all the watching these people don’t seem to really know themselves, much less one another. For example, the production makes useful use (so to speak) of Ismene (Ingela Bohlin) and Farnace during Aspasia (Netta Or)’s “nel grave tormento,” during which she is unhappy about having to leave Sifare. Ismene and Farnace between them silently mock Aspasia in such a way as to suggest that on some level she wants power or the crown as much as she wants Sifare. Ismene has this job of pointing out mixed motives rather a lot. It’s in the libretto, as when she has a “do you really want to kill all these people, dear Mitridate?” aria in Act III but the stage direction emphasizes it more, e.g. in Act II after Farnace confesses that he has been very bad, but that Sifara and Aspasia have been much worse, he ends up with his head buried against her shoulder, despite having rejected her affections in Act I.
Or throws herself into “nel grave tormento,” which has some repeated high pingy notes that make Aspasia sound like the Queen of the Night’s rookie sister, with complete conviction. She’s about as interesting an Aspasia as one is likely to find. Aspasia’s “do I take the poison?” aria in Act III, “pallid’ombre, che scorgete” is also really nice, though it does strike me that the words “pallide” and “ombre” are probably ripe for inclusion in some sort of opera seria drinking game.
And Or is especially impressive given that she often has to sing what she sings right after Miah Persson, who is one of those acts that is probably slightly terrifying to have to follow. This below, “lungi da te mio bene,” is one of the most beautiful moments in the whole opera.
Richard Croft as Mitridate is no slouch either. Indeed, the impression I came away with from this production was of a series of really beautifully rendered pieces of music that are often stunningly lovely on an individual basis (Farnace’s “già dagli occhi” comes to mind here) but which taken as a whole don’t have quite the dramatic snap that Mozart’s later operas do (i.e. the ones that he wrote when he was older than fourteen). That later melding of musical development and character development that make Mozart operas Mozart operas isn’t quite there yet.
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