Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 1

24 Jan

I would like to share my entire process from start to finish for one photo, so you can see what I do. Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented. This will take more than one blog post, so I will be breaking this post into pieces for ease of reading.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this first post, I will share with you a brief synopsis of “Mitridate”, the music from Act III which my image is based around, some design sketches, and an overview of the equipment I use!


If you were to ask me what my favorite works of Mozart were, I would say, “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Mitridate.” Mitridate is a perfect execution of the Opera Seria style with fantastic music throughout, which reinforces a solid and competent drama. Opera Seria is the older classical style where the play was a framework for showpiece arias that were sung alternating by cast members.

Mozart’s “Mitridate” is about the famous and tyrannical ancient-world tyrant, Mithridates and his two sons, Farnace and Sifare. While Mitridate is out fighting the Romans, his two sons, who are supposed to be protecting their home-land, are busy trying to seduce Mitridate’s young fiancée, Aspasia. Farnace, the wicked brother, is trying to take her by force, when she hires Sifare, the nice brother, to protect her. However, by the time Mitridate returns, Aspasia is in love with Sifare.

Mitridate finds out about all these betrayals, and it’s at this point that he comes up with elaborate executions for everyone involved. Meanwhile, Farnace has impetuously given a Roman envoy access to the city, and the Roman’s attack at the vital moment! The Father and sons have to put their personal lives aside, and are left to prove their mettle.

The album cover to “Mitridate” recorded by Christophe Rousset is the only perfect Mozart recording I’ve listened to. I truly think it is the only flawless opera record I’ve ever heard. I highly recommend it.

Act Three is the part of the play that concerns us for this blog post, because it is a scene in Act Three that I chose to illustrate through photography

Farnace is imprisoned by his father to await execution. The Romans blow up the prison cell and give him a sword in hopes that he will aid them in conquering his father. It is at this moment that the world slows around him, and he realizes he’s been a young, rash, fool. He laments his poor choices, and for letting down his father and country. This scene is set to a long and beautiful aria, full of regret and introspection. Farnace then makes the decision to repent his ways, and sets out to set fire to the Roman fleet.


Take a moment to relax.

Wind down.

And listen to the aria from Act III which I chose to illustrate… “Gia dagli occhi il velo e tolto”.

Here are the lyrics translated:

Now from my eyes the veil is lifted,
Base affections, I abandon you:
I have repented and heed
Only the cries of my heart.
It is high time that reason
Returns to rule in me;
Now I retrace the fair path
Of glory and honour.


My photos of Mitridate are set in period appropriate costuming. I looked up contemporary statues for costume ideas. Mitridate is represented as both a young man and as an older man in art, but because my focus was on his son Farnace, I chose to base the character design off of one particular statue of Diomedes.

Statues of Mitridate and Diomedes

Here are two statues. The one on the left is Mitridate, himself. The one on the right is Diomedes, who was the costume inspiration for Farnace in my photo.

I first designed Farnace after listening to the opera “Mitridate” for the first time back around 2003. This sketch of Farnace utilized a type of tattoo design that is my specialty, and I use it in various place in my artwork: sketches, body paint, fabric art, etc. I call this design “clockwork”, because it reminds me of various shifting gears and other mechanized innards.

Diomedes Statue and Farnace Sketch

On the left is poor Diomedes, who appears to have had both his “human-horn” and his “lower horn” harvested by Omicronians. On the right is my pencil sketch of Farnace.

Upon first listening, I also sketched little images of the sets from various acts just for fun.

When I came to illustrate Act 3 through photography, I chose to mix my Farnace with my set design in the real world.

Mitridate Act III set sketch

My sketch for the prison set of Act III in the opera “Mitridate”


In order to photograph a scene from a Mozart Opera, I need three things: Costumes, Models and Camera Equipment. Here is the Photography Equipment that I use:

I use a camera called a Canon EOS Elan 7, with a 28-90mm Lens. I inherited this from my grandfather, upon his death, after my own Canon camera was stolen under mysterious circumstances.

This is a film camera, and I use a film called Kodak Portra NC (Natural Color). I usually used 400 speed, but sometimes I change it up. I have also used Kodak High Definition film, and Kodak Portra VC (Vivid Color) for the project.

Once my photos are taken, I have the negatives processed, then I use a negative scanner called a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED.

When the photos are scanned, I open all the files and narrow it down to the best. I then edit the best photo using Corel Photo Paint 12 (It’s not Photoshop, but I have learned how to use it pretty fully.)

Accurate location settings are almost impossible to secure, and so I rely mainly on illusion, either in the actual photography, or in computer graphics added in afterwards. Many of my photos for this project limit the viewing area to so small a space that the setting can be inferred from props that are strewn about, while other photos are actually just taken in front of a blank wall and have backgrounds added in after the fact. This equipment helps me to create these illusions.

I also carry a reflector board on every shoot.

COMING UP NEXT – Photographing the model Trevor Ivanich as Farnace!

Tyson Vick and Trevor Ivanich


2 Responses to “Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 1”


  1. Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 2 « onedelightfulday - January 29, 2011

    […] my epic, multi-piece post from last week, I will continue sharing what goes into one single Mozart Project photo. Of all the pictures that I […]

  2. Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 3 « onedelightfulday - February 5, 2011

    […] post, I will continue sharing what goes into one single Mozart Project photo. You can catch Part 1 if you want to learn about the design and music or Part 2 if you want to watch my mad photography […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: