Idomeneo, King of Crete, has been away from home during the long years of the Trojan War. Idamante, his son, now regent of the island, waits for his return, heralded by the arrival of Trojan prisoners in Crete. One of these prisoners is Ilia, daughter of the murdered King Priam of Troy. Idamante has fallen in love with Ilia, but is loved by Electra, daughter of the Greek King, Agamemnon, who is taken refuge in Crete. The Drottningholm Court Theatre is a tiny and exquisite rococo theatre, the only surviving eighteenth-century theatre in Europe in perfectly-preserved working order. The Swedish conductor and musicologist Arnold Östman became the theatre’s director in 1981 and introduced an orchestra of original instruments playing an authentic style to complement the unique atmosphere of his surroundings and he has steadily built up a worldwide reputation for his authentic interpretation of Mozart. This revised revival of the acclaimed 1986 Drottningholm production by Michael Hampe conducted by Arnold Östman, was staged during the Mozart Bicentenary year. Combining both tragedy and comedy with drama, Idomeneo boasts a series of superbly expressive pieces which Einstein described as “one of those works that even a genius of the highest rank, like Mozart, could write only once in his life.”
“This is unquestionably the most vital and authentic account of Idomeneo to date on disc. We have here what was given at the work's first performance in Munich plus, in appendices, what Mozart wanted, or was forced, to cut before that premiere and the alternative versions of certain passages, so that various combinations of the piece can be programmed by the listener. Gardiner's direct, dramatic conducting catches ideally the agony of Idomeneo's terrible predicament – forced to sacrifice his son because of an unwise row. This torment of the soul is also entirely conveyed by Anthony Rolfe Johnson in the title role to which Anne Sofie von Otter's moving Idamante is an apt foil. Sylvia McNair is a diaphanous, pure-voiced Ilia, Hillevi Martinpelto a properly fiery, sharp-edged Elettra.
“Trevor Nunn produced his first opera, Idomeneo, Glyndebourne in 1983, with felicitous results. John Napier's designs imaginatively evoke the Cretan milieu, supported by restrained, dignified costumes and lighting. The spare setting now seems a model beside what usually passes for decor today. Within it Nunn directs his principals and chorus with economic yet pointed care. Philip Langridge is a compellingly distraught and haunted Idomeneo, singing with his customary feeling for word-painting. He easily encompasses the longer version of 'Fuor del mar'. Carol Vaness offers a fiery, richly contoured Elettra. Yvonne Kenny's beautifully sung Ilia is more conventional and Jerry Hadley is a fresh, pleasing Idamante. Bernard Haitink conducts a lithe, forward-moving account of the score, though you'll need a high volume setting to get the best out of the sound.” (The Gramophone)
This DVD of the recently issued Britten/Pears mini series recorded by the BBC for television way back in the 1960's and the 70's is for all intents and purposes another resounding success. All four priceless documents were thought lost, but this Idomeneo seems to have had a charmed life more than others. Indeed, three days before the Aldeburgh première, the hall was left in cinders and it is something of a miracle that the television production could actually go ahead. First broadcast in May 1970, critics and viewers alike were unanimous in their praise. Sung in English to a version prepared by Maisie and Evelyn Radford, Mozart's first operatic masterpiece is even more telling. A lot of credit should go to Britten himself, who not only conducted with committed ardour, but also prepared a musical edition all of his own. The staging has a classical dignity and avoids austerity altogether and both Pears and Harper give impressive performances. (Gerald Fenech)
Mozart's opera seria tells of the King of Crete who is saved from a terrible storm by promising the gods that he sacrifice the first person he meets when reaching land, only to be greeted by his beloved son Idamante. In this Salzburg staging under Sir Roger Norrington Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas sings the title role, with Czech mezzo Magdalena Kozena giving an acclaimed performance as Idamante. Salzburg favourite Anja Harteros is the jealous Elettra, with Ekaterina Siurina as Idamante's beloved Ilia.
Considered the greatest “opera seria,” Idomeneo was composed when Mozart was just twenty-five and a tour de force for all singers. A 1982 production starring superstar Luciano Pavarotti as Idomeneo, the tortured king of Crete, with Ilena Cotrubas and Frederica von Stade along with Hildegard Behrens providing the mad scenes!
…[Böhm] may be an octogenarian, but he directs the opera for the most part with a spirit and an urgency that many a young man might envy. Most of the accompanied recitatives are alert and fiery, and in this particular work they carry a great deal of the emotional weight. Here and there I find myself at odds with a choice of tempo. Especially in the closing scenes, some of the orchestral recitative seems to need to go more slowly; it is inclined to lack the proper sense of momentousness. I was a little surprised too at the quickish tempo for the opening aria and, most of all, for the great quartet in Act III, which has more turbulence and urgency than usual, particularly with its sharply contoured dynamics and its incisive accents. Of the choruses ending Act II, "Placido è il mar" is very slow and sticky, indeed positively becalmed (Dr Bain should remember that in ancient times an excessively calm sea did not portend a prosperous voyage— there could be no voyage at all!); the subsequent "Qual nuovo terrore", however, has tremendous power and drama, with superb choral singing and brilliant playing from the fine Dresden violins. And of course BOhm brings true grandeur and a sense of tragic inevitability to the noble music of the Temple Scene; "O voto tremendo" in particular is duly slow and weighty. All praise to him—and to the engineers—for the exceptional clarity of texture in these scenes; Mozart's orchestral writing is often unusually complex, and here every strand of it can be heard without any feeling of unnatural perspectives. – Gramophone
The most famous of Mozart’s has also been the most controversial not in his lifetime, but in the 20th century! Many commentators of that period saw it only as the final metamorphosis of an outdated genre, whereas, on the contrary, the young Mozart threw himself into the work with true creative fury. But that injustice has now been overcome, as is demonstrated here: after a series of distinguished Mozart operatic recordings, notably , René Jacobs has shown he has all the requisite vigour to perform this dazzling composition, given here in the absolutely complete text Mozart intended for its premiere in Munich on 29 January 1781.
This "Idomeneo" takes us to Zurich from Vienna and again Harnoncourt finds much fire and passion in a work which is notoriously difficult to bring off. My selected comparison here was the indefatigable Peter Maag (Arts Archives) whose litheness of tempi and superb singing team is given a good run for their money by Harnoncourt and in particular the booming voice of Hollweg who can safely lay claim to be one of the finest Idomeneo's on record. Yet again Harnoncourt is a thrilling exponent of the Mozartian idiom and the opera really finds a dramatic twinge especially in the final act. (Gerald Fenech)