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This is such a wonderful opera. It is surprising it is not up there in
popularity with Mozart's top 4 or 5. Could it be that unlike Don
Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro the hero is not a baritone? Could
it be that unlike Cosi Fan Tutte and The Magic Flute, there is no
principal baritone or bass part? Instead we have two or three tenor
parts (depending on whether Idamante, Idomeneo's hapless son is cast as
a tenor or mezzo-soprano) and two or three sopranos (again depending on
how Idamante is cast)!
Still, there is an adequate supply of complete CD recordings and at least four DVD versions. And obviously there is no problem in finding two or three tenors with sufficiently different timbres to do the work justice.
This is definitely the case in this production. Jerry Hadley's elegant and silvery tenor makes Idamante youthful passion both moving and credible. This is beautifully contrasted with Phillip Langridge's brilliant and tortured Idomeneo. Just compare his rendition of Idomeneo's great aria "Fuor del mar" with Pavarotti's. The latter may have the infinitely more beautiful voice, but he is such a wooden actor that you hardly feel convinced of the internal turmoil the aria is meant to convey. Langridge wins hands down in the acting stakes. Vocally, Pavarotti just manages to do a decent job of the technical difficulties, but does not compare with the visceral effect that Langridge's vocal pyrotechnics achieve.
Hadley vs Federike von Stade as Idamante? This depends on which voice type you prefer in the role. Both are good. But my preference is for a tenor Idamante.
Glyndebourne's Carol Vaness is much more seductive as against the Met's convincingly demented Hildegarde Behrens as the spurned princess Elettra. Marginally I prefer the latter.
Finally the clincher is the Ilia of one of Australia's greatest ever singers, Yvonne Kenny. Her singing is simply beautiful in the Glyndebourne production, trumping Ileana Cotrubas for the Met at every turn.
As an opera I love Idomeneo. The story is concise and moving and the
music contains some of Mozart's most inspired and beautiful music.
Alongside the Ponnelle performance with Pavarotti, Von Stade, Cotrubas
and Behrens, this is my first choice of Idomeneo on DVD, though I am
watching the earlier Glyndebourne performance from 1974 as we speak.
Visually, I do prefer Ponnelle's. The sets here are not bad, in fact they are mostly quite good, if occasionally over-stylised. The costumes are great though, as is the camera work and sound. The picture quality can be at times grainy. Musically, I can't fault it, with the orchestra superb throughout and Bernard Haitink's conducting is authoritative and sympathetic yet never too broad or overly bombastic.Trevor Nunn does a generally fine job with the stage direction, with Elettra and Idomeneo's big moments standing out as particularly impressive.
As with the musical side of things, the singing is fantastic. Jerry Hadley has a silvery and fresh voice here, and while his acting is not as charismatic or quite as involved as Frederica Von Stade, his Idamante is very credible indeed. Yvonne Kenny of the three Idomeneo productions I've seen so far(this, Ponnelle's and the 1991 Drottingholm performance) is my favourite Ilia, her singing is beautiful and lyrical and has so much pathos to it, and the interpretation is innocent and honest.
Especially good are Carol Vaness and Phillip Langridge. Vaness is a most excellent Elettra, I loved the Italianate edge that her voice had which made a change to the Germanic sound. She may not be as intense as Moser(on record) or as bonkers as Behrens, but it is a very incisive and committed performance. Langridge is brilliant as Idomeneo, my personal favourite on VHS/DVD that's for sure. His voice is perhaps not as glamorous as Pavarotti or Domingo on record, but like some people have said often his singing is much more suited to Mozart than either of them, besides his singing is superb with great musicality and technique and his Idomeneo is intelligent, dignified, tortured and very intense.
Anthony Roden is very good as the High Priest and Roderick Kennedy is appropriately sonorous as the voice of Neptune. Only Thomas Helmsley disappoints, the singing is good but the acting is very static. Overall though, it is a great production and definitely worth looking out for. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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