Contest for the scenery of this Mozart opera for the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels.
Institutional sponsor: Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Playwriting and set design: Ignasi Cristià
Costume design: Alejandro Andújar
Mithridates, King of Pontus is an opera seria by Mozart in which he draws from characters from the classical era. It is set in the ancient Kingdom of Ponto on the coast of the Black Sea, before it was conquered by the Romans. Mithridates governs this territory, but when he returns from a lost battle, a series of conspiracies against him are plotted in court. What we sought to do was render the story in more contemporary fashion by shifting the message of this opera to the present. At the same time that the project was being designed, the crisis in the Crimea between the governments of Ukraine and Russia was unfolding, as well as the controversy that was besieging the public image of Spain’s royal family after images of the king on an elephant hunt were published. This imagery was what we sought to reveal to modern-day viewers through the story that the opera was telling.
The scenery depicted a no-man’s land, a site in conflict that was reminiscent of neither East nor West but could be anywhere, which represented the government of a king whose power was waning. This was achieved through two symbolic elements, the remains and debris of a battle, which includes an elephant corpse, the symbol of power consumed and defeated; and a large wall which could be the wall in Ceuta, separating one world from another. This wall aims to break with the classical layout of Italian-style theatre by traversing the space and jutting out of it to almost reach over the audience. This wall is actually a false mirror that duplicates the scenery, but images can be projected onto it from the rear as well. Following the classic aria and recitative structure of Mozart’s opera, the stage was designed to look dormant and decaying during the recitative and to come to life through projections when another dimension is entered, the dimension of reflection and the characters’ internal worlds in the arias.
In short, the scenery represents a disputed border just like others that exist in the world, as well as a mirror in which the characters see themselves, where they can witness the decline that surrounds them.