Opera Reviews
2 June 2020
Untitled Document

A psychological Idomeneo



by Moore Parker
Mozart: Idomeneo
Theater an der Wien
15 November 2013

Photo: Werner Kmetitsch / www.photowerk.atA steeply-raked stage depicting a deserted battlefield littered with discarded army boots forms the unrelenting foundation of this Idomeneo setting (directed by Damiano Micheletto and designed by Paolo Fantin). Additional modern-day chairs, suitcases, a bloodstained mattress, an axe and a crown and one has the the essence, not for the literal story of Mozart/Varesco's Idomeneo plot, but for a prism focus on generational conflict, which here goes beyond the father/son stress of Idomeneo and Idamante's relationship to the latter's unborn child - an entity who (via video) communicates its message of "love being the conqueror" while still pulsating in its mother's womb. The actual on-stage birth brought chuckles from some corners of the house, and the comments at the cloakroom were priceless - but perhaps one shouldn't take the issue too seriously.

The dichotomy is somewhat in the mix of the product - on the one hand, contemporary and focussed on the psychological elements of the drama; on the other, a sense of paying token tribute to tradition and the libretto. The result is a mélange that ultimately fails to take flight - which may in part rest within the restrictions of the musical concept, as well in the sheer artistic dimension of the performers themselves.

While all characters were intense and well-defined, there was nothing original to note in their acting or interaction. Indeed, the inevitable throwing of props across the stage to depict emotion came to pass, rather exposing a deficit in the staging-cum-performers' ability to make an impact through technical craft and personality.

On the vocal side, the entire cast was delightfully sharp and accurate with commendable diction and intonation. In the title role, Richard Croft still has the sheer style and craft to stand out among his colleagues. He cleverly negotiates certain passages with technical, rather than vocal reserve, and creates a credible stage figure for whom one musters a fair measure of sympathy.

Elettra can be a show stealer, and in this reading (a Marilyn Monroe-like shopping queen) Marlis Petersen has an absolute ball. The direction provides her with the greatest scope in the production to develop extremes of character - at first swapping glittering skirts, stoles and stilettos with aplomb, and later in her mad scene tearing off her glamorous blond wig to reveal patchy wisps of hair (not an original idea, but effective nonetheless) while rolling in sludge and dirt before expiring. Her soft-grained soprano is elastic and (just) endured Mozart's testing tessitura, yet was surprisingly modest in volume and nuance compared with interpreters within recent memory.

Gaëlle Arquez put her vibrant and bright-toned mezzo to good use as Idamante, singing with impeccable intonation and wearing her trousers most convincingly. Sophie Karthäuser presented an intensely emotional - if vocally somewhat bland - Ilia, rising well to the character's dramatic intervention in Act 3 and overall providing a convincing foil to the production's flamboyant Elettra. Julien Behr made the most of his opportunity as Arbace, singing with notable talent, and looking quite dapper - rather as if he might have just popped in from Wall Street for the show. Mirko Guadagnini and Luca Tittoro rounded-off the cast as Neptune and La Voce.

René Jacobs and the Freiburger Orchester provided a refined and highly accurate reading, which despite subtlety and variety nevertheless came across as very "well behaved" rather than a reading to set this drama alight.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo Werner Kmetitsch / www.photowerk.at
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