Polenzani Excels in Title Role of Idomeneo

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Idomeneo: Soloists, Chorus, Lyric Opera of Chicago / Sir Andrew Davis (conductor). Civic Opera House, Chicago. 20.10.2018. (JLZ)

Matthew Polenzani in Idomeneo
(c) Kyle Flubacker

Idomeneo – Matthew Polenzani
Elettra – Erin Wall
Ilia – Janai Brugger
Idamante – Angela Brower
Arbace – David Portillo
High Priest – Noah Baetge
Voice of Neptune – David Weigel
1st Cretan Woman – Whitney Morrison
2nd Cretan Woman – Kayleigh Decker
1st Trojan Man – Josh Lovell
2nd Trojan Man – Alan Higgs

Conductor – Sir Andrew Davis
Original Director & Designer – Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Revival Director – David Kneuss
Lighting Designer – Chris Maravich

With inspired casting, Mozart’s Idomeneo (1781) has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a revival of the venerable production that Jean-Pierre Ponnelle created for the Metropolitan Opera.

In a score that endures many retouchings, the part of Idomeneo’s son Idamante changed in Mozart’s hand from a castrato soprano to a tenor, but twentieth-century revivals of the opera have often assigned he role to a mezzo-soprano.

In this production Angela Brower made her Lyric debut in this trouser role and gave a stunning performance. Not only was her acting convincing, but she also demonstrated her vocal command with pitch-perfect attacks and idiomatic line. This was evident in Idamante’s opening aria ‘Non ho colpa’ (‘I am not guilty’), in which he admits both his innocence in the hostility toward the captive Trojans and his growing love for their princess Ilia. Brower negotiated the nuances with finesse. In the recognition aria ‘Il padre adorato’ (‘I adore you, father’) later in the act, Idamante encounters the long-lost Idomeneo, and here her skill heightened the ambiguous emotions.

Janai Brugger was an ardent and engaging Ilia, and while she hesitated in her lines at the beginning of the first-act aria ‘Padre, germani, addio’ (‘Father, brothers, farewell’), she was convincing in the second-act aria ‘Se il padre perdei’ (‘If I lost my father’) as she focused on the stoic Idomeneo. Brugger’s sensitivity to phrasing also emerged in ensembles, particularly the opening of the Act III, when Ilia declares her love for Idamante.

In the title role, Matthew Polenzani was strong and convincing, with his full tenor ringing in the house, as in the first-act ‘Vedrommi intorno’ (‘I see around me’). Yet in Act II, his execution of ‘Fuor del mar’ was marred with some blurred melismas and, at times, some of the virtuoso runs were obscured by the orchestra. This was not the case in the final act, where the refocused balances allowed Polenzani to be heard with deserved clarity. The acclaim he received at the curtain was well-earned.

David Portillo was outstanding as Arbace. His second-act aria ‘Se il tuo duol’ (‘If your pains’) was a model of seamless delivery, remarkable technique, and touching expression.

Unfortunately Erin Wall as Elettra seemed to lack her usual style. Some of the entrances in the first two acts sounded understated. The bravura ‘D’Oreste, d’Ajace ho in seno i tormenti’ (‘I feel Orestes’s and Ajax’s torments in my heart’) lacked focus. While the presentation gave a strong sense of Elettra’s emotional state, the delivery was at odds with its staging.

This was not the case with the chorus, which has a demanding role. Not only did conductor Sir Andrew Davis thoughtfully blend the choral textures, but he skillfully managed distinctions between the full and partial chorus. This was particularly moving in the second act, with ‘Placido è il mar’ (‘The sea is still’), in which choral phrases intersect with Elettra’s solo lines. The Lyric orchestra was particularly effective, working in tandem with the voices.

Sir Andrew gave his usually reliable authority. While the first act was at times uneven with regard to attacks and releases, the second was notably clearer in execution. Like the title character’s arrival in Crete, the conductor’s return was greeted with welcoming applause.

 James L. Zychowicz

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