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Mozart, Idomeneo: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Opera National de Bordeaux, Conductor: Karen Kamensek, Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. 25. 5.2008 (JMI)

New Production

Direction: Yannis Kokkos
Sets and Costumes: Yannis Kokkos
Lighting: Patrice Trottier


Idomeneo: Kobie Van Rensburg, tenor
Idamante: Jennifer Holloway, mezzo soprano
Ilia: Henriette Bonde-Hansen, soprano
Elettra: Elza Van Den Heever, soprano
Arbace: Donat Havar, tenor
Neptune's  Priest: Philippe Do, tenor

Last week could be called Mozart week for me, since after seeing the two operas of the Corunna Festival, I then attended a new production of  Idomeneo  - this time in Bordeaux where I saw one of my very first productions of this opera, with an outstanding (and then young and very promising) Carol Vaness as Elettra. I arrived with high expectations of this one and the result did not disappoint.

Conscious of the importance of this Idomeneo, Bordeaux offered a new production with stage direction by Yannis Kokkos, who is also in charge of sets and costumes. The production includes a stage with big sliding columns that allow fast changes of the action, showing a kind of screen at the back where, with changing lights, you see a rough sea or a mountainous landscape. Costumes are rather timeless, mostly in dark colours and safe in the case of Ilia.  It is a simple production, quite figurative, and its works well, despite the lighting being rather disappointing.

American Karen Kamensek is one of the few women conducting operas regularly  and she already has a long experience in the field. In her reading I should mention the energy of her conducting, with fast tempi (sometimes too fast), which meant that we missed some gentleness and nuances in the intimate moments that abound in this work. She offered a complete version of the opera, adding the ballet music that follows the chorus “Scenda love, scenda Idomeneo”, which is worthy of praise, although it is a kind of anti-climax to the chorus, especially if there is no ballet on stage. The orchestra was not at its best, being too loud in general, and there were some faults with the playing  from  the brass section. Overall, Mrs Kamensek left a good impression, although I am not convinced that Mozart suits her completely.

The vocal casting offered very interesting names and struck me as being the best casts seen in Bordeaux for years. In general, Thierry Fouquet usually opts for young voices, and he did this again with remarkable success. The protagonist Idomeneo  however, was the already almost veteran Kobie Van Rensburg, who is a specialist in this role. His voice is not particularly beautiful, but he showed great expressiveness. He has a full command of the role and, although he had some difficulties, he successfully delivered the frightening original version of the aria “Fuor del mar”.

Idamante was interpreted by American mezzo soprano Jennifer Holloway, who recently made good impression singing Tamerlano’s Irene at the Teatro Real. On this occasion she was a good interpreter, both as singer and actress, although the voice is not exceptional in size or quality. Danish soprano Henriette Bonde-Hansen was an interesting Ilia, singing with taste and showing a voice heavier than the usual light sopranos cast in this role. She also cuts an attractive figure on stage.

South African Elza Van Den Heever was a major discovery as Elettra. She has a very important voice and she will have a very bright future career. Hers is a wide voice, almost a  spinto or dramatic soprano, with a pleasant timbre in the middle, and very easy in the upper register. I would say she is a dramatic soprano d’agilita, perfectly suited for this role. She still has some slight problems in the passaggio, but this did not prevent her from stopping the show after “D'Oreste è d'Aiace”. This kind of voice is becoming a rarity today and I am convinced that she has a great future, provided she does not push herself too fast.

German tenor Donat Havar was an Arbace without pain or glory. On this occasion I was not sorry that his second aria was cut. Philippe Do’s Neptune’s Priest was very much far better than I have heard from him elsewhere.

There were ovations from the packed house after the big arias for  Idomeneo and Elettra, and at the final bows all the performers had a very warm reception, especially Van Den Heever and Kamensek.

As I said above, my memory of Idomeneo in Bordeaux is bound to the figure of Carol Vaness. On this occasion we had another stunning Elettra, with a very different voice and while Carol Vaness had the more beautiful voice, that of the Elza Van Den Heever could prove to be more important.

José M Irurzun

Pictures © Guillaume Bonnaud

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