Mozart on Crete

Unlike Verdi’s Alzira, productions of Mozart’s Idomeneo, Buxton International Festival’s other major operatic staging this year, hardly fall into the realms of scarcity these days.

It has virtually become standard operatic repertoire since the early 1950’s when the Glyndebourne Festival was amongst its first champions.

Indeed, the opera’s title role has served the likes of Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti as a vehicle for their only excursions into Mozart.

Premiered in Munich in 1781, it took a while to reach these shores when an amateur Glasgow company gave the opera its first British outing in 1934. The work’s first American performance was in 1947.

Idomeneo is usually held up a Mozart’s first mature opera; Die Entfürhung aus dem Serail – The Abduction from the Seraglio, followed a year later. Stagings of this operatic jewel are scarcer than Idomeneo nowadays!

Mozart described Idomeneo as a dramma per musica – music drama, yet it is regularly referred to as opera seria, which it is not, beyond skeletal similarity.

Consciously or not, the 25-year-old Mozart emulated Gluck by giving the chorus a major role, unheard of in opera seria; the characters are dramatically believable and realism holds sway.

Continuo-led recitative is hardly in evidence, whereas there is lots of accompagnato, or orchestral recitative. Everything flows fluently with none of stop-start elements found in opera seria and there is not a da capo aria in sight.

And there is the ballet music (25 minutes of it spread out), totally taboo in opera seria, and usually omitted in stagings of the opera – nothing suggests Buxton’s production will go against the norm!

It is universally acknowledged that Mozart’s score is superb – Stephen Medcalf, stage director of Buxton’s production describes it as “extraordinary.”

What’s it all about…?

In a nutshell: Ilia, daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam, and Elektra, daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon, both love Idamante, son of Idomeneo, King of Crete – where the action takes place – who has got himself into a spot of bother.

On his way home following the Trojan War, his ship runs into a violent storm and he vows to Neptune to sacrifice the first person he meets if he lands safely. The Sea God duly obliges and the first person he meets turns out to be Idamante, his son.

Idomeneo then spends the best part of two acts looking for ways to circumvent the outcome of his vow as Neptune gets ever more angry.

Highly promising young mezzo-soprano Heather Lowe plays Idamante, Mozart having written the role for a castrato before adapting it for a tenor five years later.

These days, casting the part is just about evenly divided between tenor and mezzo-soprano Idamantes, the latter probably shading it.

Vocally and dramatically, Idomeneo himself should be straight up Paul Nilon’s street, while Rebecca Bottone as Ilia and Madeleine Pierard as Elektra (Elettra, as Mozart would have her) similarly, looks like ideal casting.

Sung in its original Italian with English side-titles, Mozart’s Idomeneo is performed at Buxton Opera House on 8th July (3pm), 11th July (7.15pm), 14th July (7.30pm), 19th July (2pm) and 21st July (7.15pm).

Tickets range from £20 to £78 – box office 01298 72190.


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