Idomeneus, the spear-famed leader of the Cretans had one-hundred cities and went to fight in the Trojan War with eighty ships. So Homer tells us. Idomeneus was one of the suitors of Helen, the one that took up with Paris and was the cause of one thousand ships going to Troy to “rescue” her. Idomeneus was one of the best of the Greek warriors if not as famous as some of the other heroes.
Mozart composed Idomeneo, an opera based on what happened after Idomeneus returned to Crete and despite of its many virtues was mostly ignored until well into the twentieth century. New York’s Metropolitan Opera did not stage it until 1982, directed Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. That production was reprised in 2017 and shown in cinemas around the world. The Met made up for lost time and the telecast was the 73rd performance of the opera at the Met.
It is a resoundingly successful production with a marvelous cast. The performance lasted more than four hours when it was telecast in 2017 but without intermissions it was about three and a half hours in streaming from the Met to entertain us during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Homeric myth of Idomeneus was expanded to include a storm that threatened his life as he approached his island. He vowed to Neptune to sacrifice the first person that he saw on Crete if the god would save him. The first person he saw was his son Idamante. Idomeneus had sent some war trophies from Troy including Ilia, the beautiful daughter of King Priam. Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon was also in Crete, running away from the Furies after she participated in the murder of her mother.
And, you guessed it, Ilia and Electra are both in love with Idamante.
Tenor Matthew Polenzani sings the tortured Idomeneo, a man who has vowed to a god to sacrifice his son. He conceals the fact as he searches for a solution. Polenzani gives us the agony of the king with vocal splendor.
Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote gets the pants role of Idamante and she is quite convincing as an obedient son who is torn between duty and personal preference. She expresses her emotional turmoil with vocal prowess and poignancy. Unfortunately, she wears a gray wig which can at best be described as ill-suited. In fact, it makes her/him look older than her/his father Idomeneo.
Sopranos Nadine Sierra as Ilia and Elza van den Heever as Electra get the best arias and I think they are the most intriguing characters of the opera.
Van den Heever wears a black gown that can cover a tennis court. Her Electra is a troubled woman who is on the run from the vengeful Furies and is looking for a safe harbour. She sings with magnificent passion and rises to the top in her last aria where, unhinged, she drops to the floor (dead?) to clear the path of connubial happiness for Ilia and Idamante.
Sierra’s Ilia is dressed in a white gown of virginal innocence and is attractive in every way, especially in her vocal performance. She is a troubled woman as well and as a war trophy how can she aspire to marry the son of her captor? She does, of course, and with a bit of divine help, she becomes queen.
Ponnelle’s gives us a grandiose production that may be closer to 19th century grand opera than 18th century opera seria. There is a semicircular set with massive columns on each side. There are several backdrops at the rear of the stage with a bas-relief of Neptune being the most prominent. The god has large holes for his eyes and his mouth is represented as a forbidding opening that can swallow people and send them to their final voyage to Hades. Neptune is the menacing god of the sea who dominates what happens in the opera. Idomeneo must sacrifice his son Abraham-like to fulfill his vow.
James Levine, described as Music Director Emeritus at the time, conducted the Met Opera Orchestra.
In all, this is an enthralling production of a work that was ignored for a very long time, but which has joined the standard repertoire with glory and vengeance.
This week is dedicated to streaming Richard Wagner’s operas and you can still catch Siegfried on Friday, October 9, Gotterdammerung on Sunday, October 10 and Parsifal on Sunday October 11, 2020.
Coming up from October 12 to 18 is Donizetti Week.
On Monday, October 12 you can watch Lucia di Lammermoor. On Tuesday October 13 it is La Fille du Régiment. On Wednesday, October 14 it will be L’Elisir d’Amore. Thursday, October 15 it’s Anna Bolena. Friday, October 16 – Maria Stuarda. Saturday, October 17 it is Roberto Devereux and Sunday, October 18 it is Don Pasquale. What more can you ask for?
The 2017 Met production of Idomeneo by W. A. Mozart was streamed by the Metropolitan Opera. For more information visit www.metopera.org