Mozart: Mitridate, re di Ponto

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The opera is set in the royal port of Nymphaea, in the Crimea, in c.63 BC. Mitridate is the King of Pontus, a Hellenic kingdom on the southern shores of the Black Sea, and has been engaged in battle against the Roman General Pompei. He has left his elder son Farnace in command of Pontus while his younger son Sifare watches over the Caucasian outpost of Colchis. News has now spread, though, that Mitridate has been killed in battle during a heavy defeat to the Romans, and both sons have abandoned their duties to come to Nymphaea, where Mitridate's fiancée Aspasia has been awaiting his return.

Act One

The town square of Nymphaea
Arbate, the city's governor, welcomes Sifare to Nymphaea. Sifare expresses concern that Farnace is already there, and confides to Arbate that both brothers are in love with Aspasia; furthermore, Farnace is suspected of being in league with the Romans. Aspasia rushes in and asks Sifare to shield her from Farnace's aggressive advances; Encouraged that Aspasia has turned to him for support, Sifare declares his love and vows to protect her.

The Temple of Venus
Aspasia repels Farnace's lustful pursuit of her, and when he threatens violence Sifare arrives to defend her. Just as the brothers are about to come to blows, Arbate brings news that Mitridate is alive and well, and is approaching the city. Farnace fails to persuade Sifare to unite with him against their father, but they agree to keep quiet about their rivalry for Aspasia. When Sifare leaves, Farnace conspires with the Roman tribune Marzio to salvage his plan to assume the throne.

The port of Nymphaea
Mitridate arrives with his fleet and comes ashore, defeated but proud. To Farnace's dismay he has brought with him Ismene, daughter of the King of Parthia and Farnace's promised bride; Ismene is disconcerted by Farnace's cold attitude towards her. Mitridate orders his two sons to escort Ismene to the royal palace. Meanwhile he explains to Arbate that he himself had spread the news of his death to test his sons' loyalty. Arbate informs him that Farnace has made improper advances to Aspasia, but claims that Sifare has displayed no feelings towards her. Mitridate is greatly relieved that his favoured son has seemingly shown himself to be worthy, but vows revenge on Farnace.

Act Two

The royal apartments
Farnace tells Ismene that he no longer loves her, and warns her that if she appeals to Mitridate she may regret the consequences; by now, though, Mitridate believes that Sifare would make a more suitable husband for her.
Mitridate tells Aspasia that he wants to marry her immediately. When she hesitates he accuses her of being in love with Farnace; he summons Sifare to deal with the treachery. Left alone, Sifare and Aspasia declare their love for each other, but duty and honour dictate that they must suppress it.
Mitridate's camp
Mitridate exposes Farnace as a traitor. Farnace confesses his alliance with the Romans, but betrays Sifare's love for Aspasia. Mitridate tricks Aspasia into confessing her feelings for Sifare, and furiously condemns her and both of his sons to death. Sifare and Aspasia resolve to die together.

Act Three

The hanging gardens
Ismene begs Mitridate to be merciful. He offers to spare Aspasia if she will return to him, but she angrily rejects him and prepares to die. Mitridate, meanwhile, receives news that the Romans are laying siege to the city walls, and he sets off to fight them. Sifare, who has been rescued by Ismene, now rescues Aspasia and departs to fight by his father's side.

The interior of a tower adjoining the walls of Nymphaea
During the Roman attack Marzio helps Farnace to escape, but Farnace renounces his previous ambitions, joining the battle but then setting fire to the Roman fleet.

A hall adjoining a grand courtyard in the palace of Nymphaea
Mitridate is carried in, having mortally wounded himself rather than surrendering to the Romans. Before he dies he is reconciled with his sons; he unites Aspasia with Sifare and forgives Farnace, who is in turn reconciled with Ismene.