Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Idomeneo": Hit or Myth?

Matthew Polenzani in Met Opera's "Idomeneo"
(photo: Met Opera)

Mozart's Idomeneo, with a libretto by Giovanni Battista Varesco, is a relative rarity in the repertoire of the Metropolitan Opera, but one which continues to grow in popularity with its many ardent fans. It premiered in 1781 in Munich in Italian when the composer was twenty-five years old. The full title was actually Idomeneo, King Of Crete, or Ilia and Idamante. It boasts over a dozen arias in its three acts, which have enhanced its reputation through the ages, even though its plot is not particularly involving, given that it's about mythological characters.

Idomeneo (tenor Matthew Polenzani), King of Crete, returns from the Trojan War to find that Ilia (soprano Nadine Sierra), a Trojan princess in captivity in Crete has fallen in love with his son Idamante (mezzo Alice Coote), who is also loved by Elettra (soprano Elza Van den Heever), princess of Argos. When his fleet is threatened by a storm, Idomeneo vows to make a sacrifice to Neptune of the first person he sees upon his return, who turns out to be his son Idamante. Idomeneo's confidant Arbace (baritone Alan Opie) brings word to Crete that the king has died at sea, but Idomeneo arrives in Crete very much alive. To save Idamante, he orders him to accompany Elettra back to Argos, but another storm appears, along with a sea monster. Idomeneo confesses his guilt, offering himself as a sacrifice. Since his father never told him of his oath, Idamante can't understand his father's actions. Crete has been devastated by the monster, and the High Priest (tenor Noah Baetge) demands to know who is to be sacrificed. Idomeneo names his son, who returns after having killed the monster. He insists that he be sacrificed as his father promised, but the voice of Neptune (bass-baritone Eric Owens) intervenes, with an offer that if Idomeneo were to relinquish the throne to Idamante and Ilia, the gods would be placated. Elettra collapses, in the weirdest mad scene ever on an operatic stage, rather as though she were the Queen of the Night when off her meds (and one could hear musical themes that would find their way into Mozart's later work in The Magic Flute). Idomeneo gives up the throne and unites Idamante and Ilia.

Under James Levine, still conducting at his peak, the performance was exemplary. The entire Production, Set and Costume Design were by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, with Lighting Design by Gil Wechsler, with the result being old-fashioned (the same Met production as some thirty-five years ago) and dark. The Live in HD Direction was by Barbara Willis Sweete. The direction was mostly static, in the stand-and-proclaim approach. The singing was top notch, with relative newcomer Sierra a real find in her believable acting and as well as her exquisite singing. Host Eric Owens did double duty, since he also sang, as noted above.

The Met Live in HD broadcasts are winding down for the season, with only two remaining, namely Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin next month and Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier in mid-May. The next season has already been announced, but more about that in future posts.

Fathom Events will present an Encore broadcast on Weds. March 29th at a theater near you.

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