PERFORMER: Placido Domingo, Cecilia Bartoli, Carol Vaness, Heidi Grant Murphy, Thomas Hampson, Frank Lopardo, Bryn Terfel, Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra/ James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 447 737-2
With its Met imprimatur and motley assortment of superstars, and with Gardiner’s benchmark reading a palpable background presence, this looks at first sight like a non-starter in the recorded Idomeneo stakes, a throwback to the dark ages when opera was grand and aspirations even grander – Mozart distorted through a Wagnerian prism. But Idomeneo is at least proto-Wagnerian, both in its music, which moves effortlessly with impressive psychological acumen between recitative and aria, and in terms of its subject matter – the fickle world of heroes and gods torn between fate and free will.
This new contender is certainly flawed – a chorus of Cecil B De Mille proportions, a nervy harpsichord continuo, and some shaky co-ordination between singers and orchestra in the recitativo accompagnato – but it still emerges as an absorbing experience, thanks to a well-contrasted quartet of principals whose powerful characterisations amply compensate for any absence of what is generally seen as the traditional Mozartian style.
Thus, Domingo, dark and louring of timbre, perfectly encapsulates Idomeneo’s tragic predicament and can easily be forgiven the occasional verismo sob. A powerful presence too is the Idamante, the fruity-voiced Cecilia Bartoli, again not a natural Mozartian but one whose singing burns with an imploring élan vital. With Carol Vaness’s Electra we are on familiar ground, a larger-than-life monster, yet capable of some delicacy. And the Ilia of Heidi Grant Murphy combines a more typically lightweight Mozart voice with some subtly nuanced verbal colouring.
James Levine provides reliable support, in an account which, apart from some moments of lingering and lethargy, is impressively energised, even at fairly deliberate tempi. This is a signal improvement on his cloying way with the real Wagner. Ironic, really.