Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Idomeneo - a music drama in three acts K366 (1781)
Idomeneo, King of Crete - John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Idamante, his son - Pavol Breslik (tenor); Ilia, Trojan princess, daughter of Priam - Juliane Banse (soprano); Electra, princess, daughter of Agamemnon, king of Argos - Annette Dasch (soprano); Arbace, confidante of the king - Rainer Trost (tenor); High Priest of Neptune - Guy de Mey (tenor)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera/Kent Nagano
Stage Director: Dieter Dorn; Stage and Costume Design: Jürgen Rose
rec. live, Cuvilliés Theatre, Munich, 11, 14 June 2008
Directed for TV: Brian Large
TV format: 1080i; Full HD, 16:9. Sound format: PCM stereo. DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound
EUROARTS BLU-RAY 2072444 [176:00] 

In 1780 Mozart was greatly frustrated by the lack of opportunities to stage his new singspiel - the one we now know as Zaide. However, the summer brought news for which the composer had longed. It was a commission to write a serious opera for Munich, the new base of the Court previously at Mannheim. The new work was to be presented in the Carnival Season of 1780-1781. The subject chosen was Idomeneo. The composer sought leave from the Archbishop with the Chaplain of the Archbishop’s Court being chosen to write the libretto, much of which was written whilst Mozart was in Salzburg. 

The plot of Idomeneo tells the story of the eponymous King of Crete and is set against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Trojan Wars. The Trojan princess Ilia is held captive on Crete, where she has fallen in love with Idamante, the son of her country's long-standing enemy, Idomeneo. However, to complete the love triangle Idamante is promised in marriage to the Mycenaean princess Electra. On his return from Troy, Idomeneo is caught up in a violent storm. In order to save his life he vows to sacrifice to Neptune, the sea God, the first living creature he encounters on land; this turns out to be none other than Idamante, his son. Idomeneo, along with his confidante Arbace, who is the only other person to know about his terrible vow, tries to circumvent the sacrifice by sending Idamante and Electra to Mycenae. Neptune is up to this and prevents the boat from leaving by creating a storm followed by the invasion of a sea monster that threatens Crete. In despair at his father's behaviour towards him, Idamante decides to seek death in battle with the monster and in that way to escape from the crisis of conscience caused by his love for Ilia. The sea monster terrifies the whole of Crete. In order to reassure his people Idomeneo finally reveals the reason for Neptune's anger. To general dismay, Idamante is led to the sacrificial altar, but at the very last moment is saved by the voice of the High Priest of Neptune who states that Idomeneo must abdicate and hand over power to Idamante and Ilia.
In style Idomeneo is firmly an opera seria with recitative and set arias and ensembles easily becoming rather static vocal showpieces. It was a genre that Mozart did not return to again until his last staged work, La Clemenza di Tito, ten years later. By which time, vastly more experienced, he was able to bend the traditional form of the genre to better encompass the dramatic thrust of the work. In Idomeneo this ability is less evident and whilst some claim it to be equal to Tito, the great Da Ponte trilogy of the 1780s and the singspiels Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Die Zauberflöte, it is perhaps better considered as being the first of Mozart’s truly great stage works. Mozart did make revisions for performances in Vienna in 1786 and which involved the casting of the role of Idamante for tenor instead of the castrato of the original. This change is compounded here with the roles of Arbace and, unusually, the High Priest of Neptune also being sung by tenors. 
The work was premiered on 29 January 1781 in the small Court Theatre in Munich. That theatre now bears to name of the Cuvilliés Theatre after its builder. It is in this small delightful rococo restored venue that this performance was recorded, the staging presented to celebrate its re-opening after three years of restoration. Seating just over five hundred it is, economically, unlikely to be staged in such a small venue again. In the circumstances it is a pity that the Bavarian State Opera did not follow the example of the Maryinsky Theatre in 1998 who for their performances of the 1862 original version of Verdi’s La forza del destino reconstructed the original sets (see review). The designer here, Jürgen Rose, follows something of the current trend of minimalism with a stage workshop set with contemporary accoutrements. His costumes are something of a mishmash of styles and periods that are no aid whatsoever in helping to determine who is who when the chorus perform.
The name part has drawn many famous tenors to the recording studio including those not noted in Mozart in the theatre, including Pavarotti and Domingo. John Mark Ainsley’s tenor is not of the same mellifluous character or vocal grace as those famous names. There are some dry patches in his voice and it lacks a free heroic ring. Nonetheless, his act two Fuor del mar (CH.24) is a histrionic tour de force. What he brings to the whole performance is a dramatic commitment and involvement that overcomes the restricted setting and vocal as well as costume limitations. Vital for any dramatic realisation to escape this tawdry staging is that Ainsley’s strengths are matched by the soft-grained eloquent tenor singing of Pavol Breslik as Idamante. The duet between father and son is the particular and most significant highlight of this performance (CHs.31).
Apart from the singers mentioned the general standard is mediocre. Rainer Trost as Arbace, gets both his arias (CHs.20 and 42) but now has significant raw patches in his tone and is unable to make any impact in this production. He looks foppish and plain silly carrying Electra’s suitcases around! Of the ladies, Juliane Banse as Ilia starts better than she finishes whilst the tall and imposing scarlet-gowned Electra of Annette Dasch barely whips up a tantrum as she is left alone from the festivities (CH.51). In the pit Kent Nagano does not come over as particularly adept in this music which at times not only fails to sparkle but sounds positively turgid. This turgidity would be fatal but for the committed histrionic performances of John Mark Ainsley and Pavol Breslik.
Robert J Farr
Two histrionic performances cannot entirely rescue Mozart’s early masterpiece from this messy production.