Mozart: Idomeneo

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Styriarte Festival Edition
WORKS: Idomeneo
PERFORMER: Saimir Pirgu, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Julia Kleiter, Eva Mei, Jeremy Ovenden, Rudolf Schasching, Yasushi Hirano; Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Soloists of the Zurich Ballet; Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir. Nikolaus & Philipp Harnoncourt (Styriarte Festival, Graz, Austria, Helmut-List-Halle, 2008)


In this 2008 Styriarte festival production of Idomeneo, Nikolaus Harnoncourt ventures, in his own words, ‘for the first and the last time’ into stage direction. His ideas about the opera’s collisions between new Enlightened and older primitive thinking are strongly and unfussily realised with the directorial expertise of his son Philipp. And quite some intensity is born of this collaboration and these collisions.

It’s primarily a musical intensity, of the distinctive type you’d expect from Harnoncourt’s defined and explosively accented conducting of the Concentus Musicus Wien. Add to this the impassioned singing of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, together with the superb classical-contemporary choreography of Heinz Spoerli for the Zurich Ballet, and you have something near to what Mozart surely intended for his French opera in Italian for a Munich court.

The accomplished cast is led by the Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu’s Idomeneo, fired by a vivid vocal palette of anger and fear. Marie-Claude Chappuis’s disarmingly pure-hearted Idamante is strong on muted, inner feeling, and Julia Kleiter’s anguished Ilia makes the role very much her own. Elettra is a vulgar mannequin of a princess in Eva Mei, and Jeremy Ovenden a statuesque prophet of a blind, child-led Arbace.

The artful camera work reveals the intimacy of stage and (unsunken) pit. The DVD includes a compelling 30-minute documentary on the work-in-progress, and a thick book of essays and libretto. Hilary Finch