Mitridate, Re di Ponto

Opera seria in three acts (1770)

Music by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Text by

Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi after Jean Racine

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was only 14 years old when he was commissioned to compose a large, full-length opera seria, »Mitridate, Re di Ponto«, for the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan. Many significant composers had previously created works for this opera house, which enjoyed a high reputation throughout Europe. Mozart joined their ranks with a remarkable opera based on a play by Jean Racine, the French dramatist of tragedies.

The story of a declining king and warlord, whose two very different sons are in love with the same woman – who also happens to be the father’s bride – inspired Mozart to create a music of great pathos, strong passions and profound emotions. While he drew on tradition, the score already showed a musical calibre that more than hinted at what was to come. The world premiere in late 1770 was a triumph for the young composer. A Japanese production team led by director Satoshi Miyagi suffuses Mozart’s »Mitridate« with a magical ambience and brings different worlds together.




Mitridate, king of Pontus, is waging war against the Roman Republic. The two armies have already faced one another three times, now Mitridate has been decisively defeated by the Roman commander Pompeius. During the final battles, his two sons made their way independently of one another to the harbor town of Ninfea on the Black Sea, where together with Aspasia, Mitridate’s young betrothed, they await the return of their father. But Mitridate had spread the rumor that he was killed in the war against the Romans.

Arbate, Mitridate’s loyal regent in Ninfea, promises Sifare his support. Aspasia asks Sifare to protect her from the advances of his brother Farnace. Sifare thinks this request indicates Aspasia’s secret love for him, thus reciprocating his own feelings. Farnace and Sifare see themselves as rivals for Aspasia’s favor, although she still feels loyal to Mitridate. Arbate cautions the two to concord and prudence, announcing that Mitridate is still alive and will shortly arrive at the harbor. Aspasia feels emotionally torn, Farnace und Sifare agree not to reveal anything of their affection for Aspasia. Farnace has also made a secret pact with the Romans that would put him in an advantageous position after Mitridate’s likely fall. He reminds the Roman tribune Marzio of his promise to stand by him if he should attempt to seize power in the kingdom of Pontus.
Mitridate’s arrival is celebrated: although he does not return victorious, he is still proud and self-confident. His entourage includes Princess Ismene, whom he has brought to Ninfea to be Farnace’s bride. Mitridate accuses the two sons of not supporting him enough in his war against the Romans. Ismene feels rejected by Farnace, whom she loves: she already suspects that only suffering awaits her.
Mitridate confides in Arbate that he was the one who spread the rumor of his own death to test the loyalty of his sons. Arbate in turn reveals that Farnace has no qualms about betraying Mitridate by quite blatantly coveting Aspasia. Sifare, in contrast, seems only to have the well-being of the king and the state in mind. This consoles Mitridate; he asks Arbate to communicate to Sifare his paternal love, but to keep close watch on Farnace. If it turns out that Farnace loves Aspasia and she loves him, he should be severely punished.

Ismene is very disappointed by Farnace’s betrayal. She threatens to tell Mitridate, but Farnace warns Ismene that Mitridate might take vengeance against her as well. But Mitridate is already aware of the situation and wants to condemn Farnace to death, for offending both Ismene and his father in words and deeds. Ismene is told to forget Farnace and instead marry Sifare, whom Mitridate considers his better son.
After a period of waiting due to the war, Mitridate finally wants to take Aspasia before the altar in marriage. But she makes it clear to him that she would only be fulfilling a duty, not her desire. Mitridate first suspects Farnace of estranging Aspasia from him; Sifare is asked to help and let Aspasia know that Mitridate’s rage could be devastating if provoked.
Sifare is horrified when he hears that Aspasia supposedly would prefer to marry Farnace. However, it is not Farnace, but Sifare who has taken Aspasia’s heart, as she admits to him. Sifare sees the conundrum he is faced with: Aspasia’s love, which he so longed for and is now mutual, violates his own commitment to remain loyal to his father. The two lovers decide not to reveal their feelings. On Aspasia’s advice, Sifare plans to leave the country for a while, even if she will suffer as a result.
Mitridate calls on his sons to once again fight the Romans. He wants to face them directly in Rome, right at the Capitol, to carry out his vengeance. Farnace is to remain in Pontus to protect the lands of Asia at Ismene’s side. Farnace thinks the plan of attacking Rome is doomed and pleads for a peace treaty. Marzio, who has arrived with Farnace in Ninfea, offers negotiations with Rome, which Mitridate furiously rejects: Farnace is arrested and Marzio is expelled from the country. He announces that he will return shortly with a Roman army and seek victory over Mitridate. Farnace, who feels abandoned, reveals to his father the secret love between Aspasia and Sifare. Mitridate doesn’t believe him at first.
Despite her contrary inclination, Aspasia wants to fulfill her duty and marry Mitridate. Mitridate realizes that it is Sifare whom she truly loves. He sees himself as betrayed and announces his desire to take terrible revenge against Aspasia and his two sons.


Sifare tries to convince Aspasia to marry Mitridate to avert additional misfortune. But Aspasia refuses to offer her hand to the vengeful king who wants to punish Sifare so severely. She would rather join her beloved in death. Full of pain, Aspasia und Sifare think of the joint death that awaits them.

Ismene begs Mitridate to spare Sifare’s life. Aspasia also pleads his case: she herself is the guilty party who should be punished. But Mitridate knows no pity: both Aspasia and Sifare are to suffer his vengeance. Arbate brings news of the Roman invasion, which has driven Pontus’ army to flee. Mitridate summons all his forces, suspecting a dark fate and his downfall.
Aspasia intends to kill herself with poison. She wants to depart from this world in her own way and find peace in the realm of shadows. At the very last moment, Sifare stops her, then rushes to his father to help. Marzio frees Farnace from the dungeon. He offers him the role of King of Pontus, as a Roman vassal. But Farnace decides to change sides and rises up against the Romans: he wants to achieve fame and honor in loyalty to his own country.
Mitridate returns from battle, not defeated, but seriously injured due to his own fault. Close to death, but joyous, he reacknowledges Farnace, who bravely fought the Romans, as his true son. Mitridate dies, forgiving all. His two sons, Aspasia, Ismene, and Arbate all promise never to surrender to Rome.

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