North WestOperaReview

English Touring Opera: Idomeneo – Storyhouse, Chester

Book: Giambattista Varesco

Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Director: James Conway

Conductor: Jonathan Peter Kenny

Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin

English Touring Opera bring us a tale of great love and passion – but not one for the squeamish. Idomemeodeals with the human frailties of betrayal, self-interest and abuse of Royal position. It looks at the aftermath of war, captivity, displacement, exile, perilous sea journeys, and brave attempts to forge happier more peaceful societies. This is no dead legend it is an opera for today.

It is Mozart’s tenth opera, having already written nine by his 25thbirthday. But it is his first “serious” opera. Also, the first in which he had a real say in the libretto and worked with the Mannheim orchestra he admired and singers he knew. This means he was able to tailor the music to show off the orchestra’s renowned flute, bassoon and brass sections.

Idomeneo is the King of Crete, a commander in the war against Troy. On his way back he is beset by tempests and to save his skin pledges to sacrifice the first person he sees on his arrival in Crete to the sea god. Sadly, that person is his son Idamante (played by Catherine Carby to give the desired castrati range). Idamante’s sacrifice would be a particular horror for the two women who vie for his affections: The highly valued guest Elettra the daughter of fellow Greek King Agamemnon and the less favoured Trojan slave IIia, the captured daughter of King Priam.

IIia (Galina Averina) and Elettra (Paula Sides) clearly relish the wonderful opportunities Mozart’s music gives them. It is delightful to hear how even among such passion the delicacy of Mozart’s music is uplifting and, at times, quite gentle despite the horrors of the narrative.

In particular in Act III, the arias and music are quite moving. A duet dropped by Mozart, simply because of length, has been re-introduced by Conway and the conductor Jonathan Peter Kenny. The musical ensemble is well up to the mark with perhaps just the odd abrupt finish. The performers acting does not go too far over the top, often subdued to match the delicacy of the musical atmosphere.The traditional Greek chorus is also not short-changed by the work which is considered his greatest choral opera.

Director James Conway worked for several weeks with the designer Frankie Bradshaw determined that the set should be equal to the poetry of the music. It is simple and effective with Rory Beaton’s creative lighting helping to magnify the climactic moments.

Watching this version of Idomeneois a chance to see a tale of pain softened by wonderful music and lovingly performed.

Reviewed on 16 March 2019. | Image: Richard Hubert Smith

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