OPERA NEWS - Idomeneo
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Teatro Real

In Review Madrid Idomeneo hdl 319
Eric Cutler (Idomeneo), David Portillo (Idamante), Eleonora Buratto (Elettra) and Anett Fritsch (Ilia) in Robert Carsen's production of Idomeneo at the Teatro Real
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real
In Review Madrid Idomeneo lg 319
Eleonora Buratto's Elettra
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real
In Review Madrid Idomeneo 3 lg 319
David Portillo (Idamante) and Anett Fritsch (Ilia)
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

THERE ARE MOMENTS IN THE NEW Robert Carsen production of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Madrid’s Teatro Real (seen Feb. 23) that imbue the well-known story with new meanings and a message for the present, while still keeping faith with the original material. Idomeneo, the King of Crete, believes he has escaped his vow to Neptune to kill the first human to cross his path if he survives a deadly tempest when returning victorious from the Trojan War. At the end of Act II, when a mightier storm arises, an enormous monster demands the sacrifice of the victim, who is Idomeneo's son, Idamante. In Carsen’s politically poetic staging, a high-tech realization of the opera set in present-day Crete, Syrian refugees arrive as huge video projections capture the many moods of the sky. Idomeneo, dressed in a contemporary military uniform, stands close to the pit as bright footlights project his ominous shadow against the menacing clouds. The Cretans are filled with fear and horror at the monster, who is none other than Idomeneo himself.

Carsen’s staging, a co-production with Canadian Opera Company, Rome Opera and Royal Danish Opera, is full of such imaginative moments. The end of the opera, when more than one-hundred chorus members and extras changed from soldiers to current city dwellers to sing the final chant of peace, was especially moving. No other production I have seen presented so clearly the human drama within the battle between the two princesses—Ilia, the daughter of the Trojan King Priam, and Elettra, the daughter of the Mycenaean King Agamemnon—for the heart of the Cretan prince Idamante. First presented in Munich in 1780, when Mozart was still in his twenties, Idomeneo has never really entered the standard repertoire. The Carsen staging makes a strong case for Idomeneo, which many believe is Mozart’s first masterpiece for the opera house. 

Eric Cutler sang an ardent, potent Idomeneo, more a precursor of Fidelio’s Florestan more than of any subsequent Mozart tenor role. Cutler’s acting skills and huge frame made the use of his silhouette and shadow at key moments especially effective. The role of Idamante, written for a castrato, is most often sung today by a mezzo-soprano, although Mozart re-wrote the role for tenor in 1786. The Carsen production used American tenor David Portillo as the prince; Portillo offered a delicately sung and played Idamante, his finely scaled, piercing lyric voice deployed with elegant command of the Mozart line. Sopranos Anett Fritsch, as Ilia, and Eleonora Buratto, as Elettra, were impeccable princesses: each merited an extended ovation for her key aria, with Buratto’s delivery of Elettra’s death monologue registering as the most powerful moment in the whole opera. The top-notch cast was completed by Benjamin Hulett as Arbace, Oliver Johnston as the High Priest and Alexander Tsymbalyuk as the booming Voice of Neptune.

The night before Idomeneo, the Teatro Real Orchestra accompanied a concert of arias and songs by Bryn Terfel, under the baton of Josep Caballé Domenech. Under an average conductor, the orchestra had sounded tired, monotonous and almost bureaucratic. The following night, when the eminent British Mozartean Ivor Bolton, the theater’s chief conductor, led them in Idomeneo, the same musicians brought fire, razor-sharp precision and heart-wrenching delicacy to their reading of Mozart’s score, convincing me of the orchestra’s high quality. —Roberto Herrscher 

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