Bernard Richter, Rachel Frenkel, Valentina Nafornița, Irina Lungu, Pavel Kolgatin; Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra /Tomáš Netopil; dir. Kasper Holten (Vienna, 2019)
C Major DVD: 760208; Blu-ray: 760304 160 mins
Idomeneo is a puzzle. Mozart described it as a ‘grosses oper’, a grand opera that blended French and Italian traditions, and there are two distinct versions: the first commissioned for Munich in 1781, and a second for Vienna. Kasper Holten, who directed this production for the Vienna Staatsoper, suggests that it’s an unfinished work that permits each generation to remake it. So, he moves the numbers that express Idamante’s love for Ilia to the top making the opera less Idomeneo, re di Creta than Idamante, Prince of Crete.
It’s a pedestrian production in search of a performance style, with the principals mostly ‘semaphoring’ their feelings rather than enacting them. They are as unmoving as the stylised chess pieces made in their likeness set out on the floor map of Crete. Fashionably penumbral lighting casts a gloom over the proceedings, played out around a large architectural rectangle that tilts and rises: a nudge in the direction of neo-classicism with costumes that pastiche late 18th-century dress.
Valentina Nafornita is a sweet-toned Ilia – at least by Act II – and her Idamante, Rachel Frenkel, is full of good vocal intentions. Bernard Richter is underpowered as Idomeneo. Best of all is Irina Lungu’s Elettra who tears into her final aria ‘D’Oreste, d’Aiace’ as if there were no tomorrow, which of course there isn’t for her! As you would expect, the chorus of the Staatsoper are magnificent and Tomáš Netopil coaxes elegant playing from the orchestra, notably the solo violin in Idamante’s Act II Rondo.