Mitridate, re di Ponto (Mithridates, King of Pontus), K. 87 (74a), is an early opera seria in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto is by Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi after Giuseppe Parini's Italian translation of Jean Racine's play Mithridate.
Mozart wrote Mitridate while touring Italy in 1770. The musicologist Daniel E. Freeman has recently demonstrated that it was composed with close reference to the opera La Nitteti by Josef Mysliveček. The latter was the opera being prepared for production in Bologna when Mozart met Mysliveček for the first time with his father in March 1770. Mysliveček visited the Mozarts frequently in Bologna during the summer of 1770 while Wolfgang was working on Mitridate. Mozart gained expertise in composition from his older friend and also incorporated some of his musical motives into his own operatic setting. The opera was first performed at the Teatro Regio Ducal, Milan, on 26 December 1770 (at the Milan Carnival). It was a success, having been performed twenty-one times despite doubts because of Mozart's extreme youth – he was 14 at the time. No revival took place until the 20th century. This opera features virtuoso arias for the principal roles, but only two ensemble numbers: the act 2 ending duet between Aspasia and Sifare ("Se viver non degg’io"), and the brief quintet that ends the opera, very characteristic of standard baroque opera seria where the opera ends with a short coro or tutti number.
Place: around the Crimean port of Nymphæum
Time: 63BC during the conflict between Rome and Pontus
Mitridate, having suffered a heavy defeat in battle, is presumed dead. This false news is passed by Arbate, the Governor, to Aspasia (Mitridate's fiancée) and to Farnace and Sifare (Mitridate's sons).
Arbate, the governor of Nymphæum, welcomes Sifare. We learn that Sifare resents his brother, Farnace, because of his brother’s strong ties with their enemies, the Romans. Arbate pledges his loyalty to Sifare. Aspasia pleads for Sifare to help her against advances by Farnace. He accepts her plea and reveals his love for her.
Farnace makes his advances to Aspasia. She refuses, supported by Sifare, who protects her from his forceful brother. News arrives that Mitridate is alive and is approaching the city. Arbate urges the brothers to conceal their differences and greet their father. The brothers agree to hide their feelings for Aspasia. Farnace conspires with Marzio, Roman legionary officer, against Mitridate.
Mitridate arrives on the shores of Nymphæaum with Princess Ismene, daughter of his ally the King of Parthia. Mitridate wants Farnace to marry Ismene, his promised bride. Ismene is in love with Farnace but senses problems and is worried about her future. Arbate tells Mitridate that Farnace is pursuing Aspasia, not mentioning Sifare. The jealous Mitridate swears revenge on Farnace.
Farnace scorns and threatens Ismene. She tells Mitridate, who suggests that she should marry Sifare. Mitridate asks Aspasia for immediate marriage but she hesitates, proving to him that she is unfaithful. Aspasia confesses love to Sifare but they both agree to part to save their honour. Sifare plans to leave and Aspasia is troubled by the conflict between love and duty.
Mitridate is aware of Farnace's plot against him with the Romans; he plans his revenge, despite Marzio’s offer of peace, and arrests Farnace to execute him. Ismene rescues the prince, who admits his treachery but implicates Sifare. Mitridate tricks Aspasia into admitting her love for Sifare and swears revenge. Aspasia and Sifare wish to die together, in fear of Mitridate’s threats.
Ismene, still in love with Farnace, tries to convince Mitridate to forgive Aspasia. The Romans attack and Mitridate leaves for battle. Aspasia contemplates suicide by poison. Sifare also wants to die, and joins his father in the battle.
Marzio liberates Farnace and promises him the rule of Nymphæum. Farnace changes his mind, deciding to side with Mitridate.
Defeated, Mitridate commits suicide, avoiding captivity. Before he dies he gives his blessing to Sifare and Aspasia and forgives Farnace, who now agrees to marry Ismene. All four pledge to free the world from Rome.
In 1901, Charles Malherbe located previously uncatalogued works of Mozart, including a soprano aria from the opera Mitridate, re di Ponto, written at age 14. It was performed that year in Paris by Camille Fourrier.1986: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle 1986 film, Nikolaus Harnoncourt/Gösta Winbergh, Yvonne Kenny, Ann Murray (DVD)
1993: Royal Opera House, Paul Daniel/Bruce Ford, Jochen Kowalski, Ann Murray, Luba Orgonášová (DVD)
1997 Salzburg Mozart Week, Roger Norrington/Bruce Ford, Vesselina Kasarova, Cyndia Sieden, Christiane Oelze (CD)
1999: Christophe Rousset/Giuseppe Sabbatini, Brian Asawa, Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay (CD)
2006: Salzburg Festival, Marc Minkowski/Richard Croft, Bejun Mehta, Miah Persson (DVD)