There is one powerful
reason for purchasing this DVD, namely
Josephine Barstow, now Dame Josephine.
To see and hear her in this 1974 Glyndebourne
production, some thirty years ago, is
a treat which on repeated playing becomes
a joy. Remember that within the last
two years Dame Josephine was still taking
leading roles in her beloved Opera North.
Sadly the treat does
not extend to the John Cox production.
It was not an overwhelming success in
1974 and age has not improved it. However
what the DVD provides is an insight
into a stylised production of the 1970s
that contrasts so strongly with many
present day re-inventions. This is the
stuff of ‘stand and deliver’ arias,
‘coiffed’ hair for all and good looks
verging on the ‘pretty boy’. Of course,
this is not a free-flowing action-packed
opera; nor is it a dramatic masterpiece.
It is Mozart’s first great opera: great
for its almost overwhelming musical
beauty, of which some, but not all,
is captured here.
As the brief accompanying
notes explain, only excerpts of the
first Act are shown; so abbreviated
indeed that Act I has been cut to just
over fifteen minutes. Later scenes also
experience cuts with omitted recitative
and shortened arias to pack the whole
into just over two hours. This is compared
with the conventional four hours including
the ballet which is completely omitted
the notes refer to the earlier 1951
Glyndebourne staging as the English
première of this opera, they
do not mention that Richard Lewis sang
the title role. Of course this is ‘age
in reverse’ to the Barstow timing in
that it was 23 years after that première
that this recording was made. What we
are watching is the first English Idomeneo
re-create his role. Sadly it disappoints.
In the very effective close-ups there
is a suggestion of the 1920s style of
acting. Vocally his voice seems somewhat
dry and lacking in power. Fuor del
mar does not achieve its usual triumphalism.
Idamante is the good
looking Leo Goeke, directed in an ‘heroic’
style of acting which seems to close
him down musically until the final scene
when he opens out expansively. His Ilia
is Bozena Betley who the camera gives
us every opportunity to admire in close-up.
Her diction is not the best and stands
in marked contrast to the particular
clarity of both Lewis and Goeke. She
is not helped by a slight aural blurring
on the DVD when she is in her higher
range at forte. It makes her
sound slightly brittle. Otherwise she
is sure and certain with an almost ‘slow
motion’ coloratura that looks effortless.
Her breath control has to be faultless
with a close attending camera. Her Act
II aria Se il padre perdei is
one of the most beautiful. It is delivered
with every emotion and almost pastel
shades of colour.
However for emotion
Dame Josephine, as Electra, is awesome
from the splendidly captured, in close-up,
lascivious look at Idamante in the last
scene of Act I to her delightfully loving
aria Idol mio, se ritroso and
her vitriol bordering insanity in D’Oreste,
d’Aiace. She misses nothing. Hers
is not the ‘stand and deliver’ role.
She roams the stage gracefully for her
farewells and then in her frustrated
rage flings herself onto it alone. She
commands the vocally difficult part.
From the long high notes with an orchestra
in full flow down to power in the lower
Arbace is also a difficult
role – for the wrong reasons. He contributes
little to the plot and by Mozartian
standards has only comparatively ordinary
arias. Without the opportunity to shine
Alexander Oliver despatches them competently.
John Fryatt as the High Priest does
not deliver the vocal depth and power,
of which he is capable, for this authoritative
The chorus is good
– indeed excellent in places – but only
intermittently achieving their usual
taut Glyndebourne performance. They
seem uncomfortable in the opening storm
scene balancing the cries of the sailors
and the watchers on land. Conversely
in Placido è il mar they
deliver a velvet tone with a strong
legato drawing out all the lyricism.
Sadly the ensembles
are not the greatest. The different
male emotions in the trio Pria de
partir are just about apparent.
The quartet Andrò ramingo
e solo did not leave me overwhelmed
and would not have reduced Mozart to
tears, as it did on one occasion when
he himself participated with friends.
Indeed at one point I was not certain
that John Pritchard had achieved ‘togetherness’
with his soloists.
Finally, it was only
in the last scene that the reason for
the receding series of arches for the
staging became apparent: the inside
of Neptune’s temple. Fine for that scene
but the problem is that they obtrude
and contrast too strongly with some
splendid earlier backdrops of Turner
/ Claude Lorrain sea-scapes / storm
and pastoral idyll.
Save for Dame Josephine’s
performance this is not the most exciting