Idomeneo – the last return of the shark (ROH, 24-11-14)

Seeing Mozart’s two great opere serie within the same week is cause for great joy chez dehggi. The drama! The choruses! The shark. The Vitellia. So bear with me if I keep making parallels between the two.

This Monday was the last performance of this Idomeneo‘s run. In spite of – or because of – the controversy, the house was well filled. There were some boos again, but I’ve also overheard people my grandparents’ age talking positively about it. There is hope.

“[…] and [Neptune] swiftly has/ his great scaly steeds/ harnassed. From out the waves/ robust tritons/ jovially sound/ their loud/ trumpets around.”

Idomeneo: Matthew Polenzani
Idamante: Franco Fagioli
Ilia: Sophie Bevan
Elettra: Malin Byström
Arbace: Stanislas de Barbeyrac
High Priest: Krystian Adam
Voice: Graeme Broadbent
Conductor: Marc Minkowski | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Martin Kušej

Something fishy. Having seen it twice I admit there is something curious about it. Do you know, of that cast, who got the biggest applause? Take a guess.

Bloody Arbace. Are you people serious?! Like I said in the last review, nothing against Stanislas de Barbeyrac, he held his own (and his accordion). He even undressed to his undershirt. He sported a beanie and a poked out eye.

But Arbace? This is akin to going to Tito for Publio. Except Tardi s’avvede is so much better an aria. I mean they are not even in the same galaxy. On the other hand, one can only speculate how much applause a good Publio would get… Especially if he takes off his Chief of Guards armour (during a trio, perhaps. Doing it during Tardi would just be exploitative 😉 although a plausible angle to Tito).

Adjusting the volume level. Going twice is a good idea but going twice three weeks apart and sitting in different places in the house might not make the best base for comparison. For instance, when I went the first time and had a central seat in the Upper Gallery, I thought Byström’s Elettra wasn’t all that loud. Now that I was sat in a closer spot to the one I had when I saw her as Donna Anna in February, I thought she was loud enough. In other words: don’t sit on the Lower Gallery horseshoe’s arms if you’re seeing something you know is going to be loud (like Strauss). Sit there for Mozart (but watch out if Nicola Luisotti’s conducting, he’ll want a racket) or if the ladies have cleavage…

On the Idamante front. Happy to report Franco was way more relaxed this late in the game. I also thought his acting was very strong, especially when Idamante became exasperated with Idomeneo not telling him what the hell was going on and at the beginning of Andro ramingo. He had some beautiful pianissime throughout and, once again, S’io non moro a questi accenti, Idamate’s duet with Ilia, was wonderful. Franco and Bevan blended like buttah. That bit is like a ray of sunshine during the Apocalypse. Even though I like a mezzo better in this role (but not any mezzo and definitely not Kozena – sorry, hon), I’ve warmed up to the CT possibility (as with mezzos, try not to draft any wimps). Yet, for the love of god, please no tenors.

Dramatically, some things became clearer: there is a lot of foreshadowing in the text. Idomeneo knows that things will end badly for his son even if he outlives the terrible situation. He seems resigned to his fate to see no way out as puppet to the High Priest. The splinter cell that frees Idamante is orchestrated by the High Priest (he has “a revelation” (a recit) immediately after he convinces Idomeneo to sacrifice Idamante. He’s really odious. To the lions!). He seems to have won over everybody’s favourite accordion player and Ilia. The thugs he sends out for this are younger but they turn into the same old hippies with guns during the final ballet tableaux (as time passes). So Idamante is truly alone, as Idomeneo used to be. This is very simply illustrated during the “wedding cake” tableau, when he is standing with Ilia and whilst he becomes uncomfortable, she does not change.

Ongoing homage to Delacroix. During the rounding up of the captured Trojans it occurred to me that Kušej must really like Delacroix. I’ve been thinking for years that he visually quoted The Massacre at Chios in the Act I finale of his Tito so spotting a hint of The Barque of Dante here didn’t come as much of a surprise. Then again, one day I might run into him in a pub and right after I shake his hand and congratulate him on his Delacroix references he tells me he has no clue what the hell I’m on about.

The funny dressed folks with the shark. This time I thought the choir was rather all over the place during Nettuno s’onori but got significantly better afterwards, with its last two interventions especially poignant. Sometimes I thought Minkowski went too softly but later I decided his manner is lighter than what you usually get at ROH. I think I just indiscriminately want Nettuno s’onori blasted out the way Eterni dei gets done. If I were to conduct it I’ll probably go the Luisotti way and let rip. But that’s not necessary a good idea, in the Idomeneo scheme of things and especially with this production, come to think of it. Maybe that all over the place thing was all about confusion.

Arm waving news. Sound-wise, Minkowski was on top of it again. From my perch I had a very good view of the orchestra and watched them and him at work. I like his style; he might have a light touch but it’s definitely not lacking in drama.

Miscelaneous. Ilia’s Se il padre perdei came off as a better aria than I’ve given it credit thus far. The bassoon helped. Andro ramingo is still weird – though it might be meant that way, it’s got four people in it that feel mostly weird about each other.

The first time around I couldn’t figure out Elettra’s deal in this production. Now I think she’s supposed to have been groomed by the High Priest as the next first lady and when she fails she’s discarded. Yea, you thought she was the mean one and Ilia the ray of sunshine, eh?

Now onto the music vs. the production. Though I know Idomeneo a lot less well than Tito, I think Mozart was a lot more straight forward here. As in, the music isn’t cynical at all and the lyrics are downright corny pastoral. This came out glaringly during Nettuno s’onori (which has powerfully cheesy lyrics – for my 21st century sensibility – as you can see in the caption above), in contrast to the shark. However, it’s about as odd playing that straight in 2014 as Tito’s musings about the peasant who – supposedly – has such honest relationships with his loved ones. (Only Bruce Ford can do that with a straight face. He must’ve been Voltaire in a previous life). We’re definitely not living in a time of benevolent despots. So if you thought the shark was silly, read the lyrics again.

The main tune of the ballet at the end that reoccurs several times is so evocative, like the basset horn theme in Non piu di fiori. This one feels like a fairy tale closing formula: …then they all turned evil and Idamante was left alone in shark infested waters. That’s all, folks!

But, Grandpa Kušej, did the sharks eat Idamante? Yep. Now close your eyes and sleep tight. I promptly had a nightmare about a dystopian Manhattan (it’s always Manhattan) where kids playing with unattended surveillance equipment (!) set in motion major carnage against innocents. I kid you not.

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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on November 25, 2014, in live performances, mozart, royal opera house and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is brill! Why bother with the synopsis when you can get all the info you need from this one post!

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  2. How did I miss this before?! I read your post on the first performance but totally missed this one – how shocking of me. It was very clever of you to go a second time. I rather wish I had too. So interesting to read your thoughts on how it had developed over the course of the run and very glad to hear that, despite everything he had to put up with, Franco relaxed into it in the end. Let’s just hope he hasn’t been completely put off ever doing an opera in London again. Hmm. So you’re warming up to the idea of countertenors, are you? Evil smile Let’s see if we can work on that 😉

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    • It’s very interesting to see two (or more) performances of the same production/+singer(s) if you can, for all sorts of reasons. Alas, it’s a matter of how much you like the opera, production, performer(s) or how much time/money you have on your hands.

      You’re my go-to person for countertenor news/needs these days 😉 I really like your reviews and if I say nothing it’s because I feel a tad overwhelmed by the sheer amount of info and analysis you can pack in a review (that’s a compliment, btw. It’s our (readers) job to digest and continue with the homework).

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      • Maidenly blush There are much more qualified people out there than me, though. I just tend to burble over with enthusiasm and hope that people won’t notice how long it is if I shove in a few pictures here and there.

        Regarding multiple opera visits, you’re right – for me I guess that at the moment it’s more important to see many different things (as a newbie who still hasn’t seen most of the most obvious operas), versus seeing the same thing twice. Money only goes so far after all. And no doubt that rule wouldn’t hold true if I really, really loved something. I was sorely tempted to book another ticket immediately after seeing the Shakespeare in Love stage play, for example… 😉

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