White Shirt Monday: More Mitridate


[Oh, look, it’s Monday. How convenient, since, no, I’m still not over this production anytime soon. Here, have some more suit lapels and shirt collars and green velvet and hands and absolutely no chill. – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016]

duet 2

[SO not over this. Can all my future seria please be this kind of seria? – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016]

duet 3

[Relevant to all my White Shirt interests. Can I please have a Bernini edition of this I’d like to write sonnets to it like Rilke did to the torso of Apollo, thank you. – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016]

the abyss

[You know a production has done something right by queer lady viewers when you can play a round of my favorite game, “Name the Xena episode“. – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016]

13 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: More Mitridate”

  1. instead of going to bed early to recover from my AC-induced cold… here i am re-playing this again in head.. because last night (prompted by your set) i carefully examined this precise duet.. and several things struck me.. starting with Aspasia slipping with Sifare tightening the grip to catch her.. and re-positioning to allow Aspasia to rest properly on her jambe (gosh i truly love those tender mindful dynamical readjustments to ensure your partner is resting comfortably..), the hands exchanges, followed by quick glance as danger approaches, the rushing almost-over-ran to grab Aspasia.. that 2nd screen cap is so lovely dynamically… i repeat again my amazement of how natural Myrtò Papatanasiu is! (and how great their chemistry is! I’m now a fan of P.Petitbon, blame it on the CT Ruggiero for my lost of fine-detailed observations last year..)


    1. I’m still not entirely sold on the concept of that “Alcina” – too easy an analogy of sexual and emotional drive, IMHO, where the changing interconnection would have invited a much more complex take, particularly in that setting! – but am planning on a rewatch for Petitbon.

      Re: your mention of natural embodiement when it comes to Sifare (something I also mentioned in my first WSM on the production), I just stumbleprocrastinated onto this interview: http://www.concertclassic.com/article/une-interview-de-myrto-papatanasiu-soprano-instinct-mozartien, where Papatanasiu talks about her approach to the role as not thinking of Sifare as primarily masculine (and risk “artificiality”), but building from the emotional range the role experiences and aiming to be truthful to that. She explicitly mentions ‘natural’ when it comes to her acting choices.
      (to which I say 1) that’s a smart approach, and it’s working, and 2) Lady, you just got yourself a bunch of queer admirers for it, too. I am so tired of singers/actresses who feel the need to distance themselves from their crossgender or queer performances.)

      Quoting from the interview (sorry, no time to translate right now):
      “Chaque interprète doit transmettre toutes ces sensations dans des airs particulièrement développés, que nous donnons ici au TCE sans coupure. Mais je dois avouer que ce rôle que j’ai déjà chanté plusieurs fois me plaît beaucoup. Je pense que plus on le joue de façon naturelle, plus il est convaincant ; il suffit de croire profondément à ce que l’on dit, de laisser son corps suivre les sentiments dégagés par ce personnage, pour apparaître vrai, juste et sincère, en évitant d’en faire trop dans le côté viril au risque que cela devienne artificiel.
      Dans cette production les personnages se retrouvent enfermés dans un théâtre tandis qu’au dehors la guerre fait rage. Sifare est une femme qui va essayer de jouer un rôle d’homme en enfilant des vêtements de soldats et finalement devenir ce personnage fictif. Chacun de ces êtres va trouver amusant de jouer un rôle au point de faire oublier qui il était au départ.”

      …darn, I am not used to being impressed with articulate sopranos who primarily hang around 19th century mainstay repertory. 😉

      Oh, and on the “falling” of Aspasia in the duet scene – and the equivalent during “Lungi da te”, when SIfare just loses his legs under him: I really like the director’s approach to a very sober physical level when it comes to what would be grand tragedy gestures (dropping/fainting with emotion). He places them so matter of fact, without larmoyance, that they become absolutely plausible (I wonder where/inw hat system Hervieu-Leger got his acting training?).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh thanks for that link Anik, and the quote, i do manage french roughly ok..
        “Je pense que plus on le joue de façon naturelle, plus il est convaincant”
        yes, that’s it 🙂 (and yes, i know you mentioned it in your first wsm post, i was just repeating due to being still very impressed…) I’m wondering perhaps a soprano who has a chance to play trouser roles would indeed be more rounded as she has to think how she would approach it. She also answers your small q. re. an actress started taking the role of Sifare, which does make the first scene quite lovely (not to mention the fact she was the only actress to start with pants!)
        oh jes Sifare losing (her) his footing! i was impressed how quick (and effective) it was! as you said it was done matter of factly when they’re vulnerable without winding up into.. all i can say is the re-watching hasn’t stopped yet!

        I’m with Agathe re. Xena, i didn’t manage the connection 😀 , but as you said, it’s pure camp.. i still can’t figure out yet why i was unable to get into it and yet my 10yr-old younger bro at that time was dying waiting for each coming episode..

        thanks Agathe also for the link! my free-to-interprete french is definitely better for french than german, hehe.

        finally, as i’m starting my “morning” with this, i’d like to casually mention how lovely the height difference is.. and that Petitbon is really in Harteros’ league of making a trouser sop comfortable… (after watching so many pairs through the year, i have a feeling it does take a very capable and comfortable soprano/actress to round out the couple)


        1. Yes, that’s why I made the quote a little longer – so it is actors, or rather patients (I didn’t catch that from watching it, with the exception of Farnace and Marzio), slipping into the roles and then becoming those roles. It’s an interesting take on establish that seria space, with its heightened emotional states: showing it as a construct, and also making it work that way (I think the same applies to the addressing/fourth wall quality of the text, with it usually being set by others on stage, so intimacy happens on a different, mediated level).

          “Natural”: the scholar in me wants to protest the term, even though I get what it is aimed at. I think I would call it “internalized patterns that we call upon”, and I think it makes sense to build the physicality of a role starting with one’s own repertoire of gestures/movements/gravity and moving from there on out, to whatever place you or the director are happy with. So much of what we perceive as gender related patterns are, when you break it down to physical instances, ways of relating to space and to other bodies, and it does not need a build or a hairdo to adapt/adopt these patterns. (that said, starting with a contrasting physicality/pattern is just a valid. matter of choices!)

          I would agree in that it does need an apt stage partner to fully work (I always return to Bonney at this point) – to turn someone into something by looking at them, and making others see that person the way you see them. Petibon could likely make me interested in peeling paint if she looked at it (God, and I do not even have a thing for coloratura sopranos. At all.)


  2. Marianne Crebassa said something along those lines in an interview, how trouser roles would make it easy for her to play the essence of a character without masculine or feminine attribute.
    (although my french is very bad, I hope I got that right).

    And, Anik, I can’t conceal that I’m super impressed with your smart and funny blogs, but Xenia?! No, you’re not going to make me watch that!


    1. Thank you for the interview link! An idea a bit like a third space of higher truth, I like it.

      And Xena… Oh, it is pure camp on the surface, but what the show – also because of its niche status – did with narrative is still food for thought, and still proves influential. Irony/parody as a plane of higher truth, at times. Also, musical episodes before every show did them and e.g. A retelling of the “Ring” as a trilogy, complete with Rhinemaidens. It had an assertive grasp of pop culture tropes if I’ve ever seen one. But no, not to everyone’s viewing tastes ! 😉



  3. Re. Re-watching: It just seems to get better every time and thanks to both of you for pointing out so many lovely details. The duet scene is absolutely beautiful. Can’t decide with whom of the two I’m more taken in.

    Re. Xena: I should have guessed you would know something intelligent to say about that as well… 🙂


    1. Think noticed in the umpteenth rewatch: the detail work of Petibon in the Mitridate aria (Tu che fedel mi sei) preceding Lungi da te: the main action is Mitridate having called Sifare, we have Sifare – uncertain whether he has been found out – rushing forward when he sees Mitridate invading Aspasia’s personal space, and then awkwardly checking himself in. That’s a nice bit, and it’s action-driven, but then check out Aspasia from the moment Sifare walks in: she knows that she absolutely must not turn around, but it takes effort. Look at her face when Sifare rushes closer – he is right behind her, she can sense his presence, but she has to fight the impulse to look at him and it is driving her crazy.
      Or a little later, when Mitridate is losing it and the two goons and Sifare are fighting to keep him from attacking Aspasia physically: there is a longer look from Sifare to Aspasia (now that Mitridate is sufficiently distracted that he won’t notice it): we don’t see Aspasia’s direct responce due to the editing, but we see her reaction shot later: there is the connection, comfort, but also, on another plane, that bout of excitement at seeing someone she is attracted to striving to physically defend her.


      1. Oh yes, very nice scene and à propos physical level, this Mitridate (the character, not the opera!) is really giving me the creeps here.

        Re. actors/patients slipping into the roles: Maybe the actresses of Sifare and Aspasia have been lovers before but I’d rather like to think they haven’t and there’s something developing between these friends/colleagues during the play. The actress of Sifare is clearly delighted at the idea of the play when they start to fool around with the libretto and during the first Aspasia aria when everybody gets excited about the play. But it’s only when Aspasia grabs the actress of Sifare, who is not yet fully in her role, in minute 12:30, that it dawns on her where this might be heading. There is this moment of non-professional bewilderment in her expression before she regains her composure, starting to enjoy the contact and further slipping into her role of Sifare.


      2. I haven’t thought about the acting folk as social biographies before the roles – but that is a very interesting take on it, thanks, Agathe! (oh, I may have to rewatch that again) I think I share your opinion about the development: the roles propel things forward, make possibilities appear (and don’t rehash or double them). That ambiguity of the acting around “Aspasia” during her first aria, already pretty much in character by the reprise, really does make a lot of sense this way.

        Re: Mitridate: I’ve just finished another post for tomorrow and that aspect didn’t make the cut, but after pondering “Tu che fedel mi sei” some more, I think that in this staging, one can read Mitridate as an abuser, and his sons as two different ways of trying to escape abuse: one turning into an abuser himself (as so often happens) and the other passively accepting the abuse, rationalizing it, until an outside force (=falling in love) gives him the incentive to break the cycle and position himself against the abuser.
        Spyres does a splendid job of conveying a massive, physical menace. It just takes a gesture, not even a full action. But even the gestures are amplified by the stage partners, by everyone cowering around him: Sifare accepting to be hidden away before Mitridate tricks Aspasia into revealing her affections. Ismene giving the reverent nod at being dismissed. Aspasia curling into herself in fear.


      3. oh, more details for me to notice on another rewatch! After recycling the *entire* opera last night and finally paying attention to the acting.. (last 2 weeks were highly distracted with conference) i was wondering out-loud: who is this girl arriving with Mitridate?? how many wives does he have?! So, finally read up the synopsis last night, poor Ismene what a waste (in term of all the beautiful music boiling down to begging for attention.. though if we have a mezzo Farnace i might change my tune…) But i did pay close attention , Agathe, to the beginning when Sifare slipping into the role, very lovely! will have to start with Anik’s tip now..

        (ps- her name is Petibon i think Anik, without the extra “t” 🙂 )


  4. Mitridate as an abuser, that absolutely makes sense the way you suggest it. I’m working and doing research in psychiatry, mainly with children and adolescents, so, sadly, I’m confronted with dynamics and consequences of abuse quite regularly.


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