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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Idomeneo (1781)
Philip Langridge (tenor) - Idomeneo; Yvonne Kenny (soprano) - Ilia; Jerry Hadley (tenor) - Idamante; Carol Vaness (soprano) - Electra; Thomas Hemsley (baritone) - Arbace; Anthony Roden (tenor) - High Priest; Roderick Kennedy (bass) - Voice of Neptune
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink.
Rec. Glyndebourne. Director Trevor Nunn. NTSC. Regions 2-6. Dolby Digital.
WARNER MUSIC VISION/NVC ARTS 5050467-3922-2-9 [181’00]

A pleasure to watch. Mozart’s Idomeneo was recently issued by Chandos (on CD, and in English). Now we have the DVD incarnation of a Glyndebourne production conducted by Bernard Haitink. The set’s value is further enhanced by the fact that this represents Trevor Nunn’s debut as operatic producer, which according to the DVD box - there is no booklet - blends ‘Minoan Crete with the ritualistic delicacy of Japanese theatre’.

The lead-in to the Overture is strange, in that one is denied the usual privilege of watching the conductor enter. The punchy overture begins under pictures of Glyndebourne’s picturesque surroundings. Still, once underway, it certainly has plenty of the feel of the opera house about it.

The story centres around Idomeneo’s vow to Neptune that, if delivered safely from a storm, he would offer as sacrifice the first living being he encounters when safe on home ground. That person, unfortunately, happens to be his own son, Idamante. At the final desperate moment, as the axe is about to fall, the Voice of Neptune proclaims that Idomeneo shall lose his kinghood, and Idamante shall reign, with his beloved Ilia at his side.

The cast is an impressive one, and towering above his colleagues is the Idomeneo of the evening, Philip Langridge. An astonishingly versatile performer, Langridge’s Mozart ranks with the very best. His aria, ‘Vedrommi intorno’ in Act 1 reveals the dark side of Mozart, and Langridge is completely at home projecting Idomeneo’s despair. Towards the end of the opera, when he pleads to placate the gods, axe in hand, ready to kill his own son, Langridge is supremely eloquent and completely believable.

Not in the same league in the believability stakes is Yvonne Kenny’s Ilia. Presumably the stock-positioned, static depiction of this character is at least partially directorial, but the fact is that if it is, Kenny looks as if she doesn’t believe it will work. Vocally, she is fine, floating her line well and her way with phrasing at least helps us to believe she is in love with Idamante. Again in Act 2 for ‘Se il padre perdei’, there is the same stasis but a nice legato. Here the vocal line is joined by excellent obbligato contributions by flute, oboe, horn and bassoon. The LPO principals excel. This is maybe the loveliest aria of the entire opera.

In fact Ilia seems to grow as the opera progresses. Her Act 3 scene (from ‘Solitudini amiche’) is a model of beauty and how marvellous is the setting, with hanging flowers and a blue, late-evening(?) sky. Her ensuing duet with Idamante is gorgeous.

A young Jerry Hadley is Idamante, and as his aria (‘Non ho colpa’) progresses it becomes increasingly obvious that Haitink has his singers well-trained. They are nicely reined in by his conducting, and in return he allows them space where necessary as in Hadley’s brief flourish/cadenza in this first aria. Hadley’s gestures can be on the stiff side though. Here it really does look like plain old-fashioned bad acting.

Electra is taken by Carol Vaness, who recently appeared as Nivian in Albéniz’s opera Merlin on DVD (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Nov04/Albeniz_Merlin.htm ). Here she is earlier in her career, rust-haired and the very incarnation of jealousy. She actually looks mad here; mad in the sense of insane rather than angry. Her first aria (‘Estinto e Idomeneo? … Tutte nel cor vi sento’) also brings out the best from Haitink, who provides the tension as the music moves from A minor to a nice dramatic D minor. Mozart gives Electra a balancing aria in Act 2 (‘Idol mio’), that Vaness brings off extremely well. No surprise that her Act 3 aria, full of spite, is excellent.

The small role of Arbace is taken rather weakly by Thomas Hemsley. It is a bit strange including this aria (it is sometimes cut) as he comes on, does his bit and then basically disappears again. It is at least nice to have it here.

Mozart invoked Neptune with trombones, after Gluck who used these forces to represent the supernatural. Roderick Kennedy is fairly large of voice - though off-stage.

Of course the Glyndebourne Chorus is excellent. When is it not? They have a fair amount to do in this opera and acquit themselves marvellously. Try the male chorus at the Act 1 shipwreck, depicted with projected images of lightning and various shadows, for example. It may be of interest to note that the Chorus Master (actually Mistress) was none other than Jane Glover.

The combination of Trevor Nunn’s conception, with John Napier’s designs and David Hersley’s lighting makes a powerful impact.

This is no short opera. Haitink takes just a touch over three hours. Including extras, Mackerras on EMI takes 203 minutes (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Nov02/Idomeneo.htm ), and Gardiner on Archiv 211! Of course one should also hear the Chandos Opera in English (CHAN3103). Yet this DVD is well worth investigating.

Interestingly, there is no applause between acts. The end of Act 1 presents a dark screen; similarly the very end of the opera is freeze-framed, then on come the credits. There is much to be said for this approach as it lets the music and action one has just heard and seen resonate all the more after the DVD has finished.

Colin Clarke



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