Mozart’s Idomeneo (1781) rarely gets to America’s regional companies — even the best ones, tending to be the province of the “Top Ten” companies and summer festivals. Boston Lyric Opera fielded a creditable Lillian Groag staging with some fine leading singers (April 25), but the Shubert Theatre also saw some audience walk-outs as the afternoon progressed. This profound score can be tough sledding for first-timer hearers. One the other hand, some of those who stayed continually interrupted Mozart’s experiments in through-composition with misplaced applause “when the singing stopped.” Groag posited the libretto’s action as a ritual re-enactment of King Idomeneus’ story (return from the Trojan War, rash ocean storm-induced vow to Neptune to sacrifice the first person he sees upon landing, only to encounter his son Idamantes) in a Cretan village, with identities changed year to year by exchanging the key garments and props. An intriguing concept, though issues of performance were only engaged at the beginning and start of the production. John Conklin’s neo-Classical set, which I suspect BLO-goers will see again in next season’s intriguingly cast Agrippina, was “repurposed” from a 2007 Gluck Orphée et Eurydice at Glimmerglass. So were Constance Hoffmann’s quite lovely costumes, evoking (for the chorus) the Bytonic Greece of the War of Independence, with rich metallic brocades for the aristocratic leads. Elettra was, aptly enough, the odd woman out in a resplendent black mourning dress (clearly a totemic object of fear for the villagers in the ‘frame” story). I found myself puzzled by the Eastern Orthodox- silhouetted wintry white blanket coats for the High Priest (capable Neal Ferreira) and his brethren: striking in themselves but awfully snug-looking for the littoral regions of Crete. Robert Wierzel again demonstrated his mastery of Mediterranean light.
Debuting British conductor David Angus seemed at great pains to get the show done at under three hours, notwithstanding two intermissions. Thus there were heavy cuts: not only both of Arbace’s arias and Idomeneo’s “Torna la pace” — am I the only person that wants to hear at least the first A section? — but lots of recitative (to the point of losing context). Most jarringly, the gorgeous “Accogli, oh re del mar” for Idomeneo and the male chorus vanished. Angus’ breakneck pace was exciting in the Overture but soon became a straitjacket. No rest was marked between any two numbers, even where it might have been dramatically apt. The great trio “Pria di partir” simply raced along at too fast a clip for the complicated emotions involved fully to register. (Angus allowed more variegated pacing for Act Three’s sublime quartet.) Orchestral ensemble sometimes flagged, with the woodwinds all too errant: problematic in Idomeneo, of all operas! The chorus fared considerably better.
A strong central trio anchored the performance. Jason Collins, still a young singer, has made great strides in vocal production in the last few years, offering a pleasingly bright Jugendlicher-Heldentenor with dynamic variety. We didn’t hear much coloratura — “Fuor del mar” was simplified almost beyond recognition — but Collins does have some flexibility. If not perhaps the last word in kingly deportment, his Idomeneo was an engaged presence. BLO had a superb Idamante in Sandra Piques Eddy, a Met Cherubino and Mercédès. She brought flowing, chocolaty tone, moral seriousness and princely ardour to her deceptively difficult role. Caroline Worra’s Elettra was also worthy of international stages: extremely well-sung (the tricky “Soavi zeffiri” a particular sensuous highlight) and thoughtfully enacted.
This Elettra masked her pain and loneliness in brave smiles. The lone miscalculation: Groag had her grunt throughout “D’Oreste , D’Aiace,” then cackle like a Panto Dame on exiting. Camille Zamora, sympathetic onstage, was unfortunately cast as Ilia; despite thoughtful phrasing, she tended towards tremulous, angular sound and simply couldn’t float, or sometimes even hit, the role’s upper notes. One of Groag’s more questionable touches had Neptune masquerading as a Beggar Figure Betokening Great Import throughout the show, only revealing his divinity at the end. Bass Craig Phillips, heavily back-amplified, sounded impressive.