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Jane Reed
Video Librarian, July 2009

Idomeneo, Mozart’s most notable opera seria, was first performed in Munich in 1781, but not seen in America until 1947. Set in 1,200 B.C. Crete, Idomeneo finds the titular king about to make his triumphant return from the Trojan wars. Although nearly lost at sea, Idomeneo was saved by Neptune…with the promise to sacrifice the first person he encounters in Crete as an expression of gratitude. Unfortunately, that person turns out to be his son, Idamante, who is also caught in a romantic triangle with the captive Trojan princess Ilia and Princess Elettra. All eventually ends happily, with Idomeneo abdicating his throne and giving his blessing to Idamante and Ilia, but not before the requisite storms—both physical and psychological—finish playing out. A 2008 production mounted at the beautiful Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, Idomeneo isably performed by the cast, which includes John Mark Ainsley as Idomeneo, Pavol Breslik as Idamante, Juliane Banse as Ilia, and Annette Dasch as Elettra, while conductor Kent Nagano leads the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Performed on a simple set with singers clad in a strange mixture of futuristic and peasant-style costumes, Idomeneo is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, and PCM stereo options. Recommended.

David L. Kirk
Fanfare, July 2009

Here is the hype from the back cover of the DVD case: “With this wonderful production, Mozart’s “Munich” opera returns to the place where it was first performed in 1781: the lovingly restored Cuvilliés Theatre, a veritable gem of Rococo architecture. In Dieter Dorn’s production the characters are real people of flesh and blood, their emotions and conflicts intelligible to every member of the audience. The cast includes some of the finest Mozart singers of our day, headed by the British tenor John Mark Ainsley in the title role, while Kent Nagano in the orchestra pit appears to unleash an elemental force of nature.”

The theater is lovely; after three years of restoration it is a gem with gilt galore and Baroque extravagance. It is perhaps the most beautiful feature of this video. The curtain opens to reveal scenery depicting a theater’s back wall complete with radiators. A few set pieces appear from time to time, mostly chairs, solid color flats, and abstract creations. The costumes are colorful, but a mélange of styles and most look like they stepped out of comic books. “The characters are real people of flesh and blood.” Well, that’s what it says on the back cover. Additionally, in the booklet we learn that director Dorn and collaborator Jürgen Rose “worked a minor miracle, turning characters often dismissed as ‘stereotypical’ and ‘wooden’ into genuine human beings.” And “all are portrayed in moving psychological studies by a team of exceptionally impressive singing actors.” Again from the back cover: “Their emotions and conflicts [are] intelligible to every member of the audience.” Yes, there is emotion aplenty. From the opening aria, we are treated to three hours of a production that is considerably overwrought. Not all of this can be blamed on the stage director. The libretto by Giambattista Varesco provides abundant heroics, conflicts, and opportunities for flagrant displays of emotion, all of which are put on prominent display in this unorthodox staging.

Musically, things are very good. Visually, however, viewers are challenged. This production tries so hard to be clever, original, and imaginative—and yet looks like all other oh-so-clever, original, and imaginative productions with abstract scenery and bizarre costumes. There is a lot of sitting on the floor, crawling, and rolling around. There are times it is like watching a Saturday morning children’s science-fiction show or a production of Ionesco’s The Chairs. The concluding ballet (often omitted from stagings and recordings of Idomeneo) is included but is not danced. It begins with a pantomime where Idamante and Ilia flee the crowd and run away; then there’s a long interlude while several men cover the stage and set pieces with white sheets, and a concluding pantomime showing Idamante and Ilia discovering this white landscape and happiness ever after. The music isn’t over, so the camera treats us to many close-ups of the theater’s interior; and since there is still music to be played, the orchestra rises from the pit and concludes the ballet in concert. As to the claim that “Kent Nagano in the orchestra pit appears to unleash an elemental force of nature,” I have no idea what that means. I admit to liking what I heard much more than what I saw. If you’re adventurous and like these attempts at being avant-garde, put this DVD in your player and bask in the experience. If you like a more traditional approach to Mozart, this is not the place.

The widescreen picture (NTSC 16:9) is very bright and clear, the sound, in PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 formats, is excellent. Subtitles are available in Italian, German, English, French, and Spanish.

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, June 2009

Kent Nagano finds a nervous energy that moves the score forward while retaining classical form. All Ainsley is asked to do is glower and grimace, but he does that well. His “Fuor del mar” is an angry roar, yet never ugly, and he has the technique for runs that sound heavier with many an other tenor. Annette Dasch doesn’t chew the scenery as so many Elettras have done. Maybe that’s due to the lack of scenery, but Ms. Dasch has fire enough to bring the role off anyway. Nagano uses a tenor as Idamante, and Pavol Breslik is excellent in the role. As Arbace, Rainer Trost has moments of roughness in his delivery, but the weakest link is Juliane Banse as Ilia, who has some beautiful music but whose pitch in unreliable throughout the performance.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

Mozart’s Idomeneo received a fine performance by the Bavarian Opera in 2008 at the beautifully restored Cuvilliés Theater where it was premiered in 1781 (2072448, two discs). Kent Nagano leads a very successful  performance. The principals, John Mark Ainsley (Idomeneo), Pavol Breslik (Idamante), Juliane Banse (Ilia), Annette Dasch (Elettra) and Rainer Trost (Arbace) all sing wonderfully. Trost, in a relatively minor role, does a great job with his “suicide” aria in Act III. The staging is minimal, with an abstract, somewhat modern set. The costumes vary with the characters; Idomeneo and Elettra wear robes fitting to their status. Idamante wears a modern sweater and slacks, as does Arbace, a palace official, under his frock coat. Ilia wears a lacy, white dress throughout. This is not as destructive as it might be, for the opera deals with emotional situations rather than dramatic events. The oracle scene towards the end is very effectively done, and the ten-minute ballet music is included at the end. It is not danced, but set to a dumb show. Of course, you can choose to end the viewing before the “ballet,” but it is not an ineffective ending to the opera. Excellent sound and video.

William Braun
Opera News, June 2009

It would be difficult to find two recorded performances of Idomeneo that offer exactly the same music. For this production, filmed in the unspeakably beautiful Cuvilliés Theater in Munich, director Dieter Dorn and conductor Kent Nagano have assembled yet another version. This bleak, ritualistic staging has a tenor Idamante, so we hear the lovely, compact duet “Spiegarti non poss’io” in place of “S’io non moro.” A movement of the extensive ballet music (written for Act III but usually cut) has been spliced into the Act I finale, which is joined to Act II for a very tight one-hundred-minute first half. Idomeneo does not sing “Torna la pace” at the end of the evening—Dorn’s view of Idomeneo as a tract about the weight of history would have required it to be staged ironically—but he does sing the original florid version of “Fuor del mar.” Since Idamante’s “No, la morte” and the High Priest’s solo within the “O voto tremendo” chorus are cut from Act III, and there is another hefty cut before the oracle speaks, the second half has an urgency and a consciousness of plot that are alien to opera seria but undeniably gripping.

In Jürgen Rose’s design, the action takes place perhaps in a rehearsal studio, or perhaps on a loading dock. A horizontal stain halfway up the walls suggests the high-water mark of a flood. But perhaps the performance simply takes place in the Cuvilliés itself. Elettra enters through the audience, suitcases in hand, for her aborted sea journey; Idamante sings the last section of “Il padre adorato” from the side boxes. Nobody dances in the ballet music. Instead, during the last section, stagehands cover all the props with white dustcloths. Idamante and Ilia return to view the scene, playfully, as if on a field trip or a honeymoon. Idomeneo, after all, had its premiere in this theater. It is as if the audience returned at regular intervals to see the tragedy reenacted like a Passion Play.

Dorn’s method, which is to press ideas already in the libretto a little further than they are meant to go, is on view with his Ilia. In Juliane Banse’s performance, she is no soubrette. Banse’s timbre—mature, complex, a little quavery—projects an attempt at strength under adversity. “Se il padre perdei” is sung as a lament, amid debris from the battle, and it never takes wing. But this makes the ensuing “Fuor del mar” an emotional response rather than a showpiece. Ilia has apparently gone mad in prison by Act III (which necessitates a cut of the opening scene), but her intervention before the sacrifice is blessedly non-chirpy as she challenges Elettra for the right to disarm Idomeneo. Dorn is, however, now at a loss for the mad scene Mozart actually did write for Elettra. In Annette Dasch’s performance (with all the arias nicely differentiated but always well sung), she is tormented by nightmares about murdered kings, rather than mad. John Mark Ainsley was born for DVD close-ups; his Idomeneo is another complete success. As Idamante, Pavel Breslik, like most tenors, is happier in the tessitura of “Non ho colpa” than mezzos are. If he doesn’t launch the Act II trio with the vocal glamour of a star mezzo, he nonetheless sings the role beautifully.

In an age of interventionist conducting, Nagano doesn’t often distract the ear, which is a blessing. When he does—the spring-like lilt of “Placido è il mar,” the natural progression of Idomeneo’s recitative into “O voto tremendo,” the helpful partnering of Rainer Trost’s Arbace in both of his arias—it is always in a positive way.

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9:46:10 PM, 2 September 2015
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