The capitalism vs. the people Idomeneo Act 1 (Jacobs, 2013)
- Idomeneo: Richard Croft
- Idamante: Gaelle Arquez
- Ilia: Sophie Karthauser
- Elettra: Marlis Petersen
- Arbace: Julien Behr
- Il Gran Sacerdoto di Nettuno: Mirko Guadagnini
Conductor: Rene Jacobs | Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 2013 | Freiburger Barockorcherster | Arnold Schoenberg Choir
I’ve long been looking for the right Idomeneo, the one to wow me once and for all to Wolfie’s first opera seria of maturity, which has eluded me for an inordinate amount of time. It has to happen some time, being that I’m a sucker for Mozart’s opere serie.
Somehow older productions of Idomeneo have not quite done it for me and the search is still on although this is very close indeed. I’m not opposed to regie by any means but sometimes… well, sometimes it’s really hard not to chuckle. For instance, the central pit in the Salzburg ’06 production has always bugged me, although there are some fine singers in that production.
I finally sat down to watch this hot new production. The smiley Mezzo TV presenter says the director (Damiano Michieletto) is the new enfant terrible of Italian opera direction, which made me apprehensive but I didn’t want to prejudge. Apparently he’s directing Ceci Bartoli’s next Cenerentola at Salzburg’s Withsun. I’ve seen weird Cenerentolas before so I’m curious which way weird that one turns out.
Back to Idomeneo, I kinda liked the overprojection with Idomeneo going into the Trojan War and the child Idamante being left behind as “the man of the house”.
The overture swings in Jacobs’ jaunty fashion. It’s not too weighty, which is good, because this opera can sound overwrought sometimes. This is, I think, the most balanced (between light and dark) sounding Idomeneo I’ve heard so far. Good news.
The field of DMs didn’t follow very well and the curtains all around looked a bit school play-ish and claustrophobic, but hey, I’m not that easily deterred. I plowed through Ilia’s recit, only vaguely wondering why Idamante was already there in a corner with nothing to do (Ilia did not notice him, although there was nothing to hide him). Then came their encounter, which I thought was over-acted and unsexy but I could live with that as well – it’s opera and that happens all the time. I couldn’t really hold it any longer only when Idamante started singing Non ho colpa to his crumpled jacket and then proceeded to shred his shirt (but, alas, not in a chest beating kind of way, rather in a nerdy methodical fashion, he’s a very upright chap) whilst Ilia was building a fort out of DMs. This is a particularly right-on kind of Ilia. Her hatred is palpable and comes off more than her love.
Burning question: Is it considered that old school to have singers sing to each other when the text implies they talk to each other? I don’t get how singing to your shirt makes more sense.
Maybe they are meant to be tantrum-y teenagers. But how does that work with the initial projection, which implies Idamante had to grow up quickly and is thus mature beyond his years? He was in charge of Crete for some time, you know. It’s kind of a shame, because Gaelle Arquez does a lovely job with Non ho colpa, very secure and even with some gentle dramatic touches.
Ilia, wearing a 99p shop reject nylon/poly jacket, pulls the curtain at the back to reveal “her people” who are carrying a change of clothes. They seem afraid of Idamante, although he’s presently in his underwear, which I guess means naked, much like they are. Maybe they think he’s lost it. The buff is not considered a position of utmost authority. Next he encourages them to put on clothes, which he does as well. I must say Arquez has nice legs but costume designer Carla Teti worked really hard to distract us from possibly objectifying Idamante or anybody else for that matter.
So maybe his stripping to his grungy looking underwear (especially for a prince! The prolonged war must’ve hit the entire Mediterranean world hard) was an expression of being a slave himself – to Ilia. Ooooh. Or maybe he’s just discovered the wisdom of Socialism and has decided to reject designer labels (he was dressed in a fine suit to begin with). Obviously love makes him see the evils of inequality and he loves her for who she is and not for her fashion acumen.
The grim-faced choir sing about rejoicing. Woot! I guess being chipper whilst singing a chipper tune is also old school. The Quirky one’s (Harnoncourt) favourite choir – The Arnold Schoenberg Choir -sounds replay-button gorgeous. They put on what looks to me like left overs from the ROH/La Scala/Liceu Nabucco wardrobe, which means drab-coloured modest dresses for the women and working class suits for men. Idamante hi-fives them all in and appears very pleased with his clemency.
Now who’s that vamp in a red dress, faux fur and shades? Why, La Elettra, who else, stalking for her man. The Trojans scurry off under the side curtains and The Man of the People is left alone with an uncomfortable Ilia and the Queen of materialism Elettra. She scoffs at his blue collar shirt but seems to find squalor kinky after all and arouses his disdain by trying to put some moves on him (she’s moderately slutty and they look like a politically minded Octavian and a SATC Marschallin). Alas, she doesn’t have much time to be getting it on among DMs, as Arbace (dressed like a city boy) shows up, grieving. 99p shop fashion-girl Ilia tries to approach Idamante but he wants to be a manly man and keeps a wide distance from her womanly pity. He flails about the
stage field of DMs until Arbace gets a good hold of him and walks him off stage.
Ilia continues to look miserable – and who wouldn’t, with grimy hair and wearing that hand-me-down jacket, when their mortal enemy was just two feet away, dressed to the nines. She takes refuge behind her DM fort whilst Elettra voices her disaproval at Idamante’s stupid left wing decisions. Sadly, she can’t properly stomp her stilettos in capitalist outrage with DMs strewn everywhere, but at least she kicks Ilia’s fort to the ground whilst belting out her first bravura aria. Haha! I guess I’m not meant to root for her but I’d really like Ilia to take a shower. A catfight ensues. Ilia is no match for Elettra, who humiliates her like a West End socialite would her migrant domestic. Ilia manages to escape and Elettra figuratively beats her chest. Her singing is also good and nicely supported by the orchestra, although I still like my Elettras barking mad and Marlis Petersen really doesn’t sound like she has it in her.
Next lifeguards bring Idomeneo out of the waves on a bed – haha, I guess that’s how they did it in Crete cca. 1240BC. I rather liked the quick scene change, which consists only of lighting flashes, diminishing lights and ominous smoke but which were effective together. The flailing about of lifeguards whilst imploring the gods wasn’t quite as impressive. In fact it was rather lame. I’m not sure what was the point, they were already on the beach, aka, the field of DMs.
Idomeneo seems jolly good and launches into his recit. I’m very fond of Richard Croft’s sensitive and noble tenor and I was pleased to hear him in good voice. Idamante, who looks like it’s way past his bedtime, strolls on the beach again and generously offers help to the stranded warrior. I know in opera they are easily deceived but how does a father not recognise his own son? He’s supposed to look just like him at that age, innit? Indeed, Idomeneo has a weird feeling about the situation and hides under his duvet (carried on his shoulders), which makes him look a bit homeless – so we know he’s one of the good guys. As Idamante reveals his identity there’s some excellent acting from Croft, who looks the heartbroken father and sounds very tender towards him. Then he pretends to reject Idamante and slaps him around a bit. Their interaction is very moving, my favourite moment so far.
Idamante is confused to the max and launches into Il padre adorato. Arquez is now officially the most satisfying Idamante I’ve heard, although I really wish they made her look a few years older. Not what you usually say when it comes to opera singers, eh? I’m glad to find an interesting new singer in my favourite repertoire. Hope to see her live soonish, maybe in this very role but hopefully in a less grimy production.
Party at the DM beach. The lifeboat/bed has not been removed but a table is laid out for the returning Cretans and the chorus sings praises to Neptune for keeping their boss-man safe. The local women don’t seem particularly happy to see their men back. It’s been 20 years and there was only one Penelope, else Homer would’ve glossed over that story, innit? Idomeneo looks like he has skipped showering but Arbace manages to convince him to put on a smart-ish jacket over his pjs. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir continues to sound delightful. Wolfie was really good at chorus parts, wasn’t he?
Idomeneo throws his own tantrum, upsetting the red wine glasses on the table. The choir keeps calm and heartily sings on but appears confused otherwise. Idomeneo goes on overturning the table and chases them away. They still keep on singing! Now that’s discipline. Idomeneo returns to the lifeboat/bed and a blood-soaked hunk sneaks out of nowhere and smears blood on his face. A plague on his house.
Endeth Act I
Well, that was really illuminating – musically speaking. I didn’t even mean to write on it just yet but I was promptly inspired. The chorus’ singing is simply out of this world and Idamante and Idomeneo are inspiring as well.
Production wise I don’t mind the class struggle angle taken by the direction but it feels a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary grim. The Salzburg car-park Clemenza looks like a glossy fashion magazine spread compared to this. Maybe only Guth’s Don Giovanni is grungier.