Idomeneo

 

Mozart Idomeneo opera to a libretto by Gianbattista Varesco. Directed 2008 by Dieter Dorn at the Cuvilliés Theatre, Munich. Stars John Mark Ainsley (Idomeno), Pavol Breslik (Idamante), Juliane Banse (Ilia), Annette Dasch (Elettra), Rainer Trost( Arbace), Guy de Mey (Gran Sacerdote di Nettuno), and Steven Humes (La Voce). Kent Nagano conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester as well as  the Chor,  Extrachor, and  Bewegungschor der Bayerischen Staatsoper (Chorus Master Andrés Máspero).  Stage and costume design by Jürgen Rose; choreographic assists by Marco Santi; lighting design by Tobias Löffler; dramaturgy by Hans-Joachim Ruckhäberle and Peter Heilker; and assistant stage direction by Oliver Brunner. Directed for TV by Brian Large. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Idomeneo was Mozart's great breakthrough as a composer of opera masterpieces. But it was performed once in his lifetime and then ignored until it was revived in 1951! The premiere was at the Cuvilliés Theatre in 1781. After the (several-times-rebuilt) theater was restored in 2008, the first work performed was the production recorded here.

The cast are called "singing actors" in the keep-case booklet. They all sing well, but they were picked we think for their ability to act to life the stereotypical "mythic" characters of the libretto. We were especially impressed by Juliane Banse as the Trojan princess and glad to see that she survived the punishing role she suffered through under Martin Kušej in the Genoveva opera earlier in 2008. This is the only opera Mozart wrote with a big chorus part, and the Bavarian folks put 3 choral groups on the stage. On the other hand, the orchestra was unusually small. It's astonishing how much wonderful sound came from this band under Nagano. All the music was well recorded with perfect balance between the orchestra and the singers.

The Brian Large video was fine for 2008 even if the resolution might be considered a bit soft today. Large was working in a tiny, cramped house of about 450 seats. He managed to get a pleasant range of full-stage shots mixed in with a spectrum of mid-range and close-up shots. So PQ and content are completely satisfactory.

We watched this cold. Even though we have a pretty good grounding in mythology and Mozart's later operas, we had trouble tracking the action and got rather confused. After studying the plot, we had no problem understanding everything with English subtitles. There's a lot of wild regietheater loose in Munich opera. But fear not, director Dorn sticks pretty close to origins. Still, we were not impressed with the eclectic design of the sets or costumes.

This is the only Mozart opera that has a ballet---the last 10 minutes of the work is ballet music. Wow, Mozart didn't have much opportunity to write ballet, so you would think the producer here would find some dancers.  But sorry, no budget for ballet. The orchestra gets elevated from the pit up to seat level, which was a nice boost for them.  There is a bit of silent action on the stage which must have been a let down for the live audience. But for us, Large has a special treat. He and his cameramen create their own ballet with the exquisite decorations of the Cuvilliés Theatre as their corps. This short segment is by itself is maybe worth the price of the disc.

We first arrived at the grade of B+ for this production, which we later increase to A- in appreciation of Large's fine video and original video choreography.

Here's a nice YouTube clip for Idomeneo: