Garsington Delivers a Golden Evening
Mitridate, King of Ponto. Photo courtesy of Garsington Opera. (c) Craig Fuller.
'Mitridate, King of Ponto’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (music) and Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi (words), Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate, Buckinghamshire on 9 June 2023.
Review by Anne Cee.
An early Mozart opera, performed with a long interval in the grounds of a magnificent country estate, is a wonderful way to mark the arrival of mid summer in England.
I was enchanted by the whole experience of drinks by the lake and supper in the dining tents but most of all, I came away delighted by the Garsington production of one of Mozart’s least known and little staged operas “Mitridate, King of Pontus”. The opera is set over two thousand years ago, when a King, the unfortunate Mitridate (Robert Murray), returns from his failure in battle to find that his betrothed, Aspasia (Elizabeth Watts), may have attracted the interest of another beau in his absence.
A tragic and passionate tale. Photo courtesy of Garsington Opera. (c) Craig Fuller.
The King’s suspicions are well founded, his crooked, wastrel son Farnace (Iestyn Davies) is obsessed with Aspasia despite receiving no encouragement from her and already being engaged to another, the lovely loyal Ismene (Soraya Mafi). And if this love quadrangle is not tangled enough, Mitridate’s other son, Sifare (Louise Kemény) is in love with Aspasia who, through her sense of duty, intends to marry the King, a man she does not love. Just for good measure, Mozart also adds a treasonous sub-plot to this unsavoury love pentagon, so enter a trusted governor, good guy Arbate (John Graham-Hall) and an ambitious Roman officer, Marzio (Joshua Owen Mills).
This opera is full of extreme passions and creates opportunities for all of the singers to really fill their individual spotlights with their own heady combo of love and longing, fear and jealousy as well as occasional self-sacrifice and righteousness. On Friday, the whole cast rose together to give a beautiful, balanced and coherent telling of this tragic tale.
A tangled tale of love and despair. Photo courtesy of Garsington Opera. (c) Craig Fuller.
My particular favourite was counter tenor, Iestyn Davies, whose voice is like a golden ribbon that curls through the auditorium, embracing the audience with every silken note. He also offers swagger in his princely robes and an impressively athletic ability to vault the sofa. Elizabeth Watts handled the crisis with the poison potion like a Shakespearean pro, Louise Kemény excelled as a sweet and tender suitor, and a broken hearted Soraya Mafi brought a tear to my eye. Robert Murray gave us deep weariness from battle and the gravitas of a ruler, before scaring us with his furious rage and despair. But all the cast were on top form, especially in Act III when they brought the drama to its thrilling conclusion and ended with a fabulous quintet that I would have happily listened to three times or more.
The whole team at Garsington, including Conductor Clemens Schuldt, Director Tim Albery, Designer Hannah Clark, and Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth delivered a wonderful production which hung together exceptionally well (if I ignore the zebra in the room). And a big shout out for French Horn virtuosity which was all part of the service from the incredible ensemble magic-ing up the sounds of the eighteenth century, The English Concert.
Mitridate was sung magnificently in Italian with English supertitles.