Spain Mozart, Idomeneo, re di Creta: Soloists, Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra / Ivor Bolton (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 20 & 21.2.2019. (JMI)
Stage director – Robert Carsen
Set designer – Robert Carsen and Luis F Carvalho
Lighting designer – Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet
Costume designer – Luis F Carvalho
Choreographer – Marco Berriel
Video Director – Will Duke
Chorus Master – Andrés Máspero
Idomeneo – Eric Cutler/Jeremy Ovenden
Idamante – David Portillo/Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani
Ilia – Anett Fritsch/Sabina Puértolas
Elettra – Eleonora Buratto/Hulkar Sabirova
Arbace – Benjamin Hulett/Krystian Adam
High Priest of Neptune – Oliver Johnston
Voice of Neptuno – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Idomeneo was last seen at the Teatro Real in July 2008 – the first time it was performed in this theater – although it had previously been done in Madrid at the now-defunct Mozart Festival in a production by Emilio Sagi. On this occasion, there is a new staging by Canadian Robert Carsen, whom I consider to be one of the best directors today. And he did not disappoint me here.
The action has been brought up to contemporary times, with simple, attractive sets that focus on a beach; it serves in the initial scene as a Trojan refugee center. At the back of the stage is a seascape that the excellent video projections convert into a city in ruins due to war. Perhaps the least successful part of the production is the appearance of the sea serpent, although it must be said that this monster is not of great significance in the plot here. Lighting plays an important role, and the costumes – mainly army uniforms – are suitable.
The direction of the principals, extras and chorus is quite good. All in all, it is a strong production that ends with a clear pacifist message: in the final moments the extras and chorus members dressed as soldiers take off their uniforms to reveal civilian garb.
Conductor Ivor Bolton, Music Director of the house, is a guarantee of success, especially when it comes to Mozart. And he has proved it once again with an excellent, lively reading. The Teatro Real orchestra, as always, was outstanding, and so too was the chorus.
The most debatable aspect is the version staged, which is not the original that premiered in Munich in 1781 but the revision done for Vienna in 1786. In the first version, the part of Idamante is sung by a countertenor and, in the second, it is a tenor; these days the character is most frequently sung by a mezzo-soprano. The version offered here was quite complete, with the addition of the duet of Idamante and Ilia in Act III, although the ballet music that closes the opera is cut almost entirely. The biggest problem was the suppression of Arbace’s arias, which makes this character a pure comprimario. His second aria is often cut, but this is the first time I have attended a performance of Idomeneo in which both Arbace arias have been dropped. I find it difficult to understand and much less to accept.
There were two different casts, and the quality varied between the first and the second.
In the first cast, Eric Cutler sung the part of Idomeneo, and his full lyric tenor is well suited to the demands of the character, although he is less strong in agilities. Tenor Jeremy Ovenden in the second cast has an attractive voice and his musicality is unquestionable, but his voice is too light for Idomeneo. In addition, he lacks volume and was inaudible in the ensembles.
Idamante was David Portillo, a light tenor, with an attractive, homogeneous voice, though his singing was a bit monotonous, especially in the first part of the opera. I found him at his best in the last act. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani as Idamante in the second cast was less impressive in the role.
There were fine performances from both Ilias. Anett Fritsch was very convincing in the first cast, while Sabina Puértolas in the second did well and showed good taste in her singing.
The best performance of all was by soprano Eleonora Buratto in the character of Elettra. Her voice is beautiful, homogeneous and well-handled, with an attractive color and remarkable volume. She was outstanding, especially in her final aria, ‘D’Oreste, d’Ajace’. Hulkar Sabirova has an important voice, but she falls a little short on expressiveness.
It was a pity that both interpreters of Arbace – Benjamin Hulett and Krystian Adam – had only recitatives to sing. Both names are well known in the opera world, and it is incomprehensible that they were simply comprimarios here. Tenor Oliver Johnston did well in the part of the High Priest of Neptune, and bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk was a true luxury as the Voice of Neptune.
José M. Irurzun