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Strong Central Trio for BLO’s Idomeneo


Charles Erickson for Boston Lyric Opera
Idamante (mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy) and Ilia (soprano Camille Zamora) Charles Erickson for Boston Lyric Opera

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.

Idomeneo (tenor Jason Collins) confesses to the High Priest (tenor Neal Ferreira)     Charles Erickson for Boston Lyric Opera
Idomeneo (tenor Jason Collins) confesses to the High Priest (tenor Neal Ferreira) Charles Erickson for Boston Lyric Opera

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.

Elettra (soprano Caroline Worra)   Charles Erickson for Boston Lyric Opera
Elettra (soprano Caroline Worra) Charles Erickson for Boston Lyric Opera

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.

David Shengold, a Philadelphia-based art critic, writes for Opera News, Opera (UK), Opéra Magazine (France), Musical America Online, Playbill, and Time Out New York among many other venues.


7 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I agree with this review as a whole. Thank you. One important aspect to remember about Fuor del Mar was that was indeed the shorter version that was written by Mozart himself and also his preferred version.

    Comment by mozartfan67 — April 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm

  2. David: I enjoyed your review — I saw the same performance — but you are much too kind to Groag. Besides Neptune-as-Beggar, the pointless framing of the story, and the grotesque mishandling of Elettra’s exit as you’ve noted, she invited inappropriate laughter by failing to direct the audience’s sympathies as required. I also think it’s the director’s job to prevent the audience from interrupting the through-composed sections by managing the action better. What else? Ilia’s dramatic entrance to stay the hand of Idomeneo was flat-footed as she had to cross that red-rope barrier seen in the photo above. Let’s hope she and the rope are not invited back.

    Comment by Bill — April 26, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  3. Good review and good comments. Vocally, Eddy showed great skill and Collins nearly had it all together.

    I agree with the comment regarding Elettra – the audience around where I was sitting came to feel
    she was quite a comic figure – probably because her acting seemed over the top in comparison to
    the other singers but also because, I think, some of the audience were looking for some relief
    from the stilted feel of the material and, to a lesser degree, the rest of the production. Presumably the level of histrionics was chosen by the director – perhaps a good choice theatrically speaking, but artistically questionable at best.

    As for the beggar, I felt that the intention was that the beggar was inhabited by the spirit of Neptune briefly at the end – although if I’m right that might have been made more clear. There might also have been the desire to give their bass soloist something to do rather than have him sit backstage for virtually the entire show. The use of the beggar reminded me of Sher’s Met Barbiere where an where an old servant wanders silently around the stage for no apparent reason except to add a bit of interest to material that also has its passages of theatrical stasis.

    Comment by Edward — April 27, 2010 at 7:27 am

  4. David,

    I need to say that you’re statement “Most jarringly, the gorgeous “Accogli, oh re del mar” for Idomeneo and the male chorus vanished.” is not true. The High Priest and his brethren were wearing those “wintry white blanket coats” that you mention while Mr. Collins sang the arietta. Furthermore, I was on the stage singing the male chorus part in the piece.

    Comment by Chorister @ shubert — April 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

  5. Have already corresponded on this issue with David Angus. I really could have sworn that only the first choral part was heard, with no tenor response; he avers otherwise. I was looking forward to hearing how Mr. Collins would sound in it, to. Maybe I had a 90 second blackout due to tiredness as I started the hundreds of miles away at 5 PM. Anyway, my apologies.

    I certainly understand the need to cut IDOMENEO in performance; I do prefer a bit more of it to be played..

    Comment by David Shengold — April 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

  6. Mr. Collins was certainly heard in response to the Mens Chorus. All sounded wonderful.

    Comment by mozartfan67 — May 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

  7. Now I find out from a letter from David Angus in OPERA that the repeat section of “Accogli” actually was not heard– there is apparently a Mozart-authorized shortened version which does NOT feature the tenor line and response I had missed (the text as printed elided what my particular shock came from). So I did not after all have a 60 second blackout! Nice to know.

    Comment by David Shengold — November 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

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