Sunday 10 March 2019

Pared-down production lets the music speak for itself: Mozart's Idomeneo from ETO

Mozart: Idomeneo - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mozart: Idomeneo - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mozart Idomeneo; Christopher Turner, Catherine Carby, Galina Averina, Paula Sides, dir: James Conway, cond: Jonathan Kenny; English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 8 March 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Mozart's first mature opera in a highly effective pared down production from ETO

Mozart: Idomeneo - Christopher Turner - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Christopher Turner - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
I am a huge fan of Mozart’s opera seria, written when he was 24/25 and considered his first operatic masterpiece. But London’s two recent productions have buried his sublime music under a distracting directorial Konzept. Who will ever forget the rubber shark at the ROH in 2014, or the dozens of extras parading across the stage in silent stilettos at ENO a few years earlier?

English Touring Opera's new production of Mozart's Idomeneo opened at Hackney Empire on 8 March 2019. James Conway directed, with Christopher Turner as Idomeneo, Catherine Carby as Idamante, Galina Averina as Ilia, Paula Sides as Elettra and John Colyn Gyeantey as Arbace. Jonathan Kenny conducted.

James Conway’s straightforward, pared-down production allows Mozart’s wonderful score to speak for itself. The set is a simple diagonal wall with a doorway with some sort of civilisation hinted at upstage right, and going downstage and left is a shoreline with sliding partitions that reveal storms and war-ravaged chorus. And that was all we had to look at during the overture, so we could focus on the music. What a novelty! And what a relief!

Mozart: Idomeneo - Galina Averina, Catherine Carby - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Galina Averina, Catherine Carby
English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
It is true we might have done with a few more visual clues, especially in terms of the principals making us believe they were listening to and processing the recitative when not singing. But I believe that will come as the production matures over the next three months on tour around England.

Christopher Turner is ideally suited to the title role. Idomeneo had made a desperate pact with Neptune who spared him from shipwreck on his return to war provided he sacrificed the first person he saw on reaching dry land. Turner showed us the confusion and the heartbreak as he slowly recognises his son Idamante. The voice has ping as well as weight at the bottom, he has a great facility with coloratura and he has excellent diction. His big Act 2 aria ‘Fuor del mar’ was a great showcase for him.

The Trojan Ilia (Galina Averina) and the Greek Elettra (Paula Sides) sang well though their voices were not different enough (to my ear). I wanted to hear more spitting and more fire in Elettra’s ‘D’Oreste, d’Ajace’ – one of the great mad scenes of opera. Catherine Carby has a flexible voice and did a great job of portraying Idamante’s confusion, torn between the love of his enemy’s daughter (Ilia), the unwelcome advances of a traumatised princess (Elettra) and the rejection by his long-lost father.

Mozart: Idomeneo - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mozart: Idomeneo - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
There were cuts, and John-Colyn Gyeantey doubled as Idonemeo’s confidant Arbace and the High Priest. The chorus sounded fantastic though there were a few ensemble problems that will no doubt be sorted out in time. This is a great chorus opera (this season features another, Verdi’s Macbeth as well as Rossini’s rarity Elisabetta, regina d’Ingilhterra [see Robert's review]).

Mozart: Idomeneo - Paula Sides - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mozart: Idomeneo - Paula Sides
(Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
For me the stars of the evening are the orchestra. Mozart’s score features so many solo players he would have been inspired by in the Mannheim court orchestra (NB the ETO oboists were not credited in the printed programme) and John Peter Kenny gave us a huge range of colours, from the storms, Neptune, to the sequence at the beginning of Act 3 from the tender ‘Zefiretti lusinghieri’ to the devastating quartet.

You have fifteen more chances to see this show. Go!

Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Idomeneo W A Mozart (1781)
(Libretto: Giambattista Varesco)

Conductor: Jonathan Peter Kenny
Director: James Conway
Designer: Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting Designer: Rory Beaton

Ilia: Galina Averina
Idamante: Catherine Carby
Idomeneo: Christopher Turner
Arbace: John-Colyn Gyeantey
Elettra: Paula Sides
Voice of Neptune: Ed Hawkins

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