Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Idomeneo, as an opera, is dramatically weak. It has the classic situation-not-plot problem: the situation is outlined at the beginning of the opera, every character spends a while explaining how they feel about the situation, and their occasional attempts to resolve the situation are entirely ineffectual. When the resolution arrives it involves divine intervention (a literal deus ex machina) and doesn’t quite make sense. To make things worse, Elettra – who has some stunning arias – doesn’t interact with any of the other characters and her subplot (if you can call it that) is entirely irrelevant to the rest of the story. The director might choose to throw the audience a bone by serving up an impressive sea monster, but the audience is as likely to giggle as gasp.
But Idomeneo is still Mozart operating at top form, full of musical treasures and stunning moments, and the music makes the draggy parts worth it.
The strengths and faults of the COC production mirror those of the opera itself. It’s musically splendid, jam-packed with beautiful voices and powerful singing, but visually and dramatically it’s a bit jumbled.
All the principals were in top form, especially Paul Groves as the King of Crete himself. While Isabel Bayrakdarian as Ilia and Krisztina Szabó as Idamante sang beautifully but carried themselves a little awkwardly, Groves was a charismatic and commanding stage presence while still giving a beautiful and deeply felt vocal performance. The Act III ensemble stands out in my mind as especially beautiful – truly Mozart at his best.
The staging was pretty to look at, with aquatic pinks and blues, but highly symbolic and at times opaque. The scrim showed a blank, open book with a Magritte-esque cutout revealing blue clouds; what that was meant to signify, I’m not sure. At one point, Ilia pulled a pink-hued blanket over her head (prompting snickers from the audience) and Idamante sang to a lump of textile. There was, at one point, a row of (fake) babies swaddled in black. The costumes were a strange jumble of different periods, mixing classical Greek hairstyles with modern suits and shift dresses. I could not find any “About this Production” note in my program, and the import of many of these abstract touches was beyond me.
My review comes almost at the end of Idomeneo’s COC run, so I imagine those reading this have already made up their minds. Nevertheless, for those who will be attending on Saturday, my recommendation would be to enjoy the thrilling singing and ignore the lack of a sea monster.
Canoe JAM!: “Together, de Carpentries and his team milk enough action from the stasis of the tale to keep the audience as engaged in the story being spun out by this gifted cast as we are in the music they’re making.”
National Post: “The COC orchestra did full justice to the richly symphonic score. Music alone makes this production worthwhile. Helpfully, there is more than music.”
The Globe and Mail: “The principal singers are, without any serious exception, outstanding, with virile American tenor Paul Groves’s superb Idomeneo, delectable Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s elegant Ilia and the excellent Irish-Canadian tenor Michael Colvin’s blind Arbace – Idomeneo’s confidant – heading the list.”
Sound Mind (Toronto Star): “As has been the case all season, the musical standards matched those of any of the finest houses in the world.”
ConcertoNet: “Overall, this production of Mozart’s first truly mature opera is musically top notch and scenically attractive for the most part. It is a shame it falls short dramatically.”
Classical 96.3 FM: “The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Mozart’s Idomeneo is the third in a row with sublime singing and nuttier than a fruitcake staging and lighting.”