MITRIDATE | London, Royal Opera House

Mozart’s rarely performed fourth opera, written when the genius composer was only 14 years old, has more than just curio value in this beautifully realised revival of the 1991 Royal Opera House production, thanks to an outstanding cast and stunning, kabuki-influenced production design (Paul Brown).

Problems first: it’s nearly four hours long (with two intervals), consisting almost entirely of solo arias in a sweet but classically formal style, with very predictable harmony and melody. At the time, the original cast all demanded Mozart to make their parts impossibly more virtuosic, often against the needs of the story. The orchestral writing is pretty much strings only, and lacking Mozart’s later wacky flair.

However, the second act aria where Prince Sifare (soprano Salome Jicia) woos Princess Aspasia (soprano Vlada Borovko), in a surprising duet with heroic French horn, stands out. Counter-tenor Bejun Mehta as arrogant Prince Farnace is a revelation: gorgeously voiced and outrageously theatrical, until his final act aria of redemption, a long moment of astounding beauty and control. But every world-class singer has a moment to shine, not least with the increasingly wild cadenzas.

The story of Mithridates, King of Pontus (63 BC), and how he and his two sons all desired the same wife, is not riveting. It’s doubtful whether anyone in the audience or (all-white) cast is well-versed in kabuki theatre, but the highly stylised, ravishingly designed costumes, and mannered choreography (Ron Howell), seem the perfect way to represent the story. Audiences are likely to be made up of hardcore Mozart fans, but this early opera by the young prodigy is too good to be confined to obscurity, and the remarkable musical and visual artistry of this production is for everybody.

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