The Brussels “Mitridate”, cont’d: Advanced Angles


[Looks familiar? – Yes, but not quite. — This is a service announcement for those who would like to watch or rewatch the Brussels “Mitridate”: Take the cleaned up copy from the La Monnaie website (and not the ARTE video) since it has superior image quality. It also has has some  different camera angles. – Not seen quite like this before: Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Lenneke Ruiten (Aspasia), “Reverse Grasp”, in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Brussels 2016. (La Monnaie copy)]

So at risk of sounding embarrassingly familiar with the ARTE video take (to write my analysis, I sat through quite a few rewatches – huge sacrifice, I know), I had the Brussels take running in the background earlier today and suddenly blinked at footage of Mitridate strutting into the theatre for his first aria. It looked unfamiliar.

Naturally, I thought “I probably missed this bit earlier because there was no soprano in the frame” (not that absurd a conclusion giving my focus in this particular production). But then I went back to the start and listened to “Al destin che la minaccia” and thought “No, wait a minute, that stalker close-up of a breathing Farnace behind the glass door looked differently… or didn’t it?”

It made sense when I arrived at “Soffre il mio cor con pace” and thought “I don’t know what my issue with the blocking was, it’s clear that Aspasia is somewhere between taken and embarrassed by Sifare taking her hand. …Wait a minute. Didn’t we puzzle about what happened there because of the frame cut?”

So I finally went back to ARTE and looked at the same scene there and while it’s the same night (I think? Miccing everyone and setting up the cameras for two different nights would be a bit of an overkill, wouldn’t it?), and most of the same angles, some bits are apparently different. And the image quality is truly much better.

I didn’t go about actually comparing takes, but there are things that feel new in the Monnaie website version, so if you would like to take another look (or a first look), check it out. It’s still available for stream on demand until June 13th (*hearteyes at La Monnaie*).

PS. I stand corrected, it’s a different take after all. Just check Aspasia’s wig during the above bit in comparison, and also the accent timing around the first cadenza ornamentation for “Soffre il mio cor” is a little different (now this should make for an interesting comparison rewatch – figuring out the variants between two nights of the same production in a shortly spaced time interval).

27 thoughts on “The Brussels “Mitridate”, cont’d: Advanced Angles”

  1. different performance = different flight schedule = no airplane over “soffre il mio cor con pace” or the duet!! (and may be this one contains “parto..” swapping out for Farnace on alternate night 😀 . (and might confirm the dvd release rumor…)


    1. yes!! i really like this “soffre il mio cor con pace” more!! it’s got a lot of energy!! vocally that is. so much more emotion packed in, and you can even hear from the reaction of the audience too! the acting is not as “smooth” as the previous edition, but I think because she went for singing here, muuch preferred! and the rough edge is back! I really miss it in the first edition, yay! (may be i need to compose this separately and post here, else we’re going to get 500 comments from me alone..)

      ohhhh, yes, even now the recit after “soffre il mio cor..” at the conference table, soo much more testosterone in Sifare while standing by lady Aspasia’s side! (vocally, and interesting how i can hear her so clearly here but can not resolve C.Oelze..)


    2. – “Nel sen mi palpita” is from edition 1.
      – same impression as in edition 1 for the CT… same version.. I wonder for my own personal copy whether I could dub VK over just to see how it fits 😀
      – sounds like the swap out Farnace’s 2nd A for edition 2.
      – ohh, a niiice tackle of Farnace by Sifare just as he ended his aria! but was cut very quickly!
      – I quite like lady Ismene’s walk in power red suit
      – am i correct Mitridate’s announcement has more drama (in the voice)? It’s also quite possible that they fine tune all the mic so sound is much more crisp now and so one can hear more dynamics?
      – with more camera angles one also sees a bit more of the acting by others in addition to the active singer.
      – Ismene’s 1st aria is from edition 1 it sounds like (also identical Sifare’s acting)
      – Anik et al., don’t miss the “transition” between Act 1 and 2! we’re not the only ones doing screen caps + gif in slowmo! (I can already see it as part of the dvd main menu)


    3. – here comes “Tu che fedel mi sei”.. oh, i’m tremendously enjoying the new camera angles… now we see _the_ moment Sifare opening the contract and realizing whose names were written! now it makes sense. (so the puppy got kicked looks were just a pre-cursor.. )
      – realllly lovely camera angles, *everything* makes sense! And i’m now really enjoying Aspasia’s facial expression, wowowowow, greeeaaat acting from both MP and LR, especially at the scene when they both got shoved onto their respective chairs for the duel! don’t miss Aspasia giving the bodyguard the elbow! fierce! oh, i’m impressed… need to rewind… (imagine that, i’m delaying Lungi…)
      – after 5 rewinds… here we are, “qu’entends je?”…
      – right, let me make a final comment for the next 20min… they’re keeping the original Lungi…


    4. – .wow.
      – yes, annoyingly Arbate stayed through the whole thing, this might explain why Sifare had to get off the chaise!
      – but yes, in case it’s not clear, this Sifare really works for me, voice-wise that is.. and she’s reallly so expressive.. we’ve already talked about the acting… but wow, facial + eyes expressions..
      – I think sitting through the 1997 Norrington’s version made me really appreciate the expressiveness of Aspasia + Sifare, as well as the recits by everyone here.. it also made me realized i understood < 1% of Italian and what I thought i understood was in fact the French subtitles..
      – Aspasia is very fierce here in her facial expression through "Nel grave tormento".. they really added a few more shots of her acting.. i'm anti-violent.. but i can imagine if Aspasia has a weapon at this moment we will not have anything more to watch!
      – and here she is, walking out in distress and defiance, while Sifare standing next to daddy instead of coming to her side like in "Nel sen mi palpita"
      – so done w/ the ct…
      – but i'm shouldering through to see Sifare's reaction… as well as Mitridate's acting
      – Arbate comes off as quite a snake, going behind everyone's back, he might have his own agenda… actually we first saw it during "soffre il mio cor con pace" when he laughed with Farnace and said something to his ear behind Sifare's back.. now helping to turn on camera to broadcast the news of Aspasia and Sifare getting persecuted.
      – actually through this whole scene, "Già di pietà mi spoglio", i don't get Sifare's lack of facial expression, quite in contrast with Aspasia's.
      – ripping off the Greek flag! Aspasia is very expressive here!
      – oh nooo, the vacuum cleaner / rain / airplane is back! arggggh.. then they made it on purpose then?
      – the emotion of this duet (in music) is sooo in contrast with the acting… brain going into overdrive confused.
      – i can't tell if this is from edition 2 or 1.. think i blocked the whole thing out of my head during the first run…

      I might have to abandon this here.. because between Norrington's ultra-smooth + fast-train recits and this duet to the shredding machine am now thoroughly confused.. need to go back to Paris to touch base methinks…

      Sorry for the run-on commentary Anik.. , wanted to voice my excitement for the new camera angles! it reveals so much more and indeed makes so much sense of what you and Agathe and others have discussed.. but still the whole thing is not quite flowing for me.. and with new camera angles come also more confusion, including more details of Aspasia and lack of Sifare's expressions.. i know where my confusion starts: when Lungi somehow felt like the "final duet" in the emotional flow.. and then Sifare just walked off.. and standing cool next to daddy while Aspasia walked out in distress.. and then the shredding machine.. I'll lurk and check in on what everyone sees/hears to see if i can make more sense of this performance..


      1. I made it through 1 1/2 acts so far and am really enjoying the difference in camera work – to me, it seems as if this was more of an in-house directed take with a knowledge of the specific dramaturgy of this production. This shows particularly in the small shots of “side” players in a given scene.
        thadieu already pointed out that small moment of Arbate and Farnace snickering at Aspasia/Sifare – this completely changes the role of Arbate for me as a more important scheming power player. Perhaps running the entire thing nearly as much as Ismene/Metkel is? (in part, the evening reads, to me, as a critical comment on Germany’s treatment of Greece in the current socioeconomic struggles)

        I’d also like to single out Hansen’s acting, excellent “going with the flow”! I regret that I personally don’t warm up to his timbre as much – I really enjoy his stage presence.

        Also, “Soffre il mio cor con pace” without planes en route to Zaventem is much more enjoyable! (apart from the more varied camera angles that tie in the other singers – how Aspasia is embarrassed, how she walks off, how Farnace is drooling over her, how Arbate seems to push his own agenda…)

        I agree that this take overall seems to have more energy (but I guess when ARTE shows up for a huge international broadcast, it’s to be expected that there will be some more focus on control, perhaps that was different here?), which I see e.g. in Spyres’ performance, but I also found Ruiten’s portrayal of Aspasia to be more nuanced and unbridled here (apart from the fact that the camera team clearly enjoyed capturing her performance?!). It also shows in the more copious and spontaneous applause.

        And apart from the “adding in other players” which I think helps a lot in transporting the production as a whole, I also commend the added close-ups to transmit emotional/motvivational cueing that – we covered this before – often is limited to very brief seconds due to the timing of the overall blokcing. My favorite so far – acted around a fierce Aspasia for “Tuc he fidel mi sei” – would be the Sifare reaction shot for “Che intendo?” that does a lot to transition the anger into stupefaction (and makes it a little less “180”).

        I might add more later – feel free to leave those 500 comments in the meantime, thadieu! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. oh, definitely. smirks, and unbuttoned shirt cuffs, and pleading looks at One Dense Prince, and scowling at Other Dense Prince, and…!


  2. Someone has clearly identified the core sequence of the evening (as thadieu said: DVD menus in the making)

    DVD menu

    Just starting Act II again and finally realizing that Farnace, before facing Ismene, is supposed to have slept with the assistant just then? (and Ismene is being sooo Berlin about it)


  3. again in Act II and agreeing to thadieu’s observations on general energy. it’s not really a bonus for the in-house audience, but the closer angles especially form the side stage allow for a much clearer transgression of intended/acted narrative. Apart from that, I still find Ruiten to be overall stronger in this take.

    The “God please, don’t look at that”. (I still don#t know WHY she’s suddenly so gung-ho over him, but I clearly get her stance in this moment. (I can only deduce that in this setting, Aspasia got a private performance of the criminally cut “Parto” in the Act break and has thus been emotionally swayed 😉 )

    I want this as a reaction gif, and I will title it “Aspasia is judging you”.

    Also clearer in this take: “The small print in the pre-nup says WHAT?!”


  4. Also, not even Arbate understands why Sifare is walking away here:

    “oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”

    I find the framing with Arbate present while logical for the production (my latest theory: Ismene is Merkel and Arbate is the German Secretry of the Interior, de Maziére, and they’re both in cahoots the whole time to play Pontus against Greece) because he has to be some all-seeing second row emincence.
    I find this choice problematic in relation to the larger cultural pattern of staging/framing female bodies (trouser role notwithstanding) for male enjoyment and the male gaze, from the “The Bathing Susanna” to “Hunter merrily observing Diana and her nymphs” to “Can I get in on that and weren’t you just waiting for me anyway.”


  5. Made it to the end of Act II and regretfully have to say that the duet doesn’t work out for me in this take, either – the beginning still transports in between the high-emotive singing and the wistful mood of staring up at the vid screens, but as soon as the direction spaces the characters far apart and then changes the focus to “fun defiance!”, I find it disjointed. (it’s the same technical flaw I find in the “Lungi” blocking: setting a mood, but then breaking its continuity at a point where the audience is invested – and it is not done explicitly enough to come off as intentional, it just feels off).

    i did not agree to this cleaning plan
    “I did not agree to this week’s cleaning plan. Also oh btw we’re dying (at least politically).”

    As mentioned before, keeping the singers far apart does make their syncing more difficult, too (same here towards the final interlaced runs), with the added issue of having a lot of small-spaced action around the shredder/contract/bodyguards that also frays this moment because it pulls focus form both the acting and the singing, for audience and performers alike.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I watched some parts of this tonight and, like thadieu feel quite confused by now with all these different takes in my head. And this whole de Maziére thing leaves me with a slightly nauseated feeling. But I really enjoyed how he was bossed around by Aspasia in “Nel grave tormento”. However, I will now return to do some more in-depth listening to Norrington (can the deus ex machina please also beam PP in there?).
    P.S. Like the new screencaps!


    1. oh, and P.S. screencaps: there’s one where I thought about you – I reached Ismene’s “Tu sai per chi m’accese” (her best aria of the night here, beautifully done!!) last night where Aspasia has her feet up on the table and scowls for the most part, but with the new camera angles, you can see that nearly all of her scoffing is directed at Mitridate and she basically seems to say “well, I’m through with politics!”. Though Ismene still looks to me like she is scheming her way through this aria (and its touching rendition! Really stellar work by Saturova!), too. (and at the beginning, she is clearly hitting on Aspasia – politically speaking 😉 )

      some damn fine singing right here.


      somewhere between melancholy and defiance, perhaps?


      1. The more I watch Brussels, the less the political take works for me (and this Merkel/de Maiziere image is really not helping at all).
        This aria is an example of what I meant in an earlier post on Ismene. that the picture of a scheming politician, who has just before called security on S&A and then seems to talk Mitridate and or Aspasia into some calculating political scheme does not go with the music for me (if I listened to Saturova’s beautiful take without watching I wouldn’t at all think of political plots). In this production the aria is probably meant metaphorically in the sense of some nice and diplomatic political talk (à la Merkel), and maybe I’m to traditional here, but I don’t like such an approach in opera because it downgrades the role of the music while it should really be at the centre. The directing choice of Ismene hitting at Aspasia (it does not look purely political to me) may also fall into the category of Sifare’s/Aspasia’s relationship being quite exposed in this take, because Ismene seems to use the knowledge of Aspasia not being opposed to women for her political plots (well, if we overlook that Sifare is supposed to be a man).


  7. Thanks for the heads-up and the lovely new screencaps! I’m excited to see (and hear) the differences between the two takes for myself.


    1. A few more caps coming up 🙂 – (and working on the next goofy cap story) It’s a luxury to get two takes to round out one’s own impression!


  8. after finishing up my -admittedly leisurely – rewatch, I did pay attention to the small print; the recordings were made May 10th and 12th and in collaboration with ARTE, so I guess ARTE simply taped everything once before the live event to have spares if something went South, and possibly this second take is already an edited combined effort?
    The end comes across, here as well, as too hastily played – the sudden swerve in political moods (e.g. turning Sifare’s third aria into a protest march didn’t get enough weight to carry) lacked the succinct elegance of the final abdication, which then again was nicely done. I ended up with the feeling that the meta commentary (nevermind the final protests, the “Union” managed to kick out Mitridate and will likely pressure a tamer Sifare/Aspasia under their rule, all politics is cynical, the EU can be an evil beast, etc…) overruled the actual story. I wouldn’t say that the political take ultimately is a bad fit, but I would say – and I know I have had the chance of watching it more than once and thinking about it more in-depth – that it would need to be better attuned to the characters (motivational cueing!) to work out more seamlessly.

    Liked by 1 person

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