Notes and Editorial Reviews
From the Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1974
Opera in Two Acts
Sung in Italian
Richard Lewis, Leo Goeke, Bozena Betley, Josephine Barstow Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Pritchard
Stage Production by John Cox
Design by Roger Butlin
Television Direction by David Heather
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Picture Format: 4:3
Region Code: 0
Menu Languages: German, French, English, Spanish
Subtitle Languages: French, English, Spanish
Running Time: 123 mins
Although Idomeneo is one of Mozart's lesser known operas, it sparkles with the composer's usual brilliant melodies. Glyndebourne became the main advocate of
the opera in the 50s and 60s, and yet despite this, Idomeneo was still considered by 1974 something of a rarity.
During a ferocious storm Idomeneo, the King of Crete, makes a vow to Neptune, offering a sacrifice (the first human being Idomeneo sees) in return for the god's help in bringing his ship safely to shore. As it turns out, this is his own son, Idamante. This dilemma can only be solved by the unselfish love of Ilia, who is willing to give her life in his stead.
Richard Lewis once again confirms his position as the world's leading exponent of this opera, in the title role of Idomeneo, with Josephine Barstow equally mesmerising in her portrayal of Elettra's agony. This significantly shortened version begins with Idomeneo alone on the beach after having survived the fierce storm. John Cox uses strikingly dark staging, echoing the drama of the action, and according to Mozart's original directions includes drowning sailors and the infamous Act II sea monster.
R E V I E W S:
This DVD of a 1974 Glyndebourne performance is something of a curio, a time capsule of fine Mozart singing and staging. This Idomeneo is heavily cut, especially from act I, the beginning of which is missing, though the cuts are clearly spelled out in the accompanying booklet, and serve to focus and intensify the dramatic energies of one of Mozart’s most underrated and powerful dramatic conceptions. As the notes point out, Glyndebourne, having mounted at least four major new productions since 1951, has a special relationship to Mozart’s first mature masterpiece, composed in 1781 at the age of 25 to mark his passage into adult independence and creative originality.
From the opening of the overture, one is struck by the entrancing set: a tapering cylinder illuminated by rings of fluorescent light, at the back of which is a landscape painting in the style of the 18th-century French masters. Particularly effective in the storm sequence with which the staging opens, scrims bring and subtract additions to this beautifully painted landscape, firmly embedding the action in the world of Bronze Age Greece as the late 18th-century envisioned it. Costuming and staging are themselves traditionally neo-Classicist, with togas abounding, metallic crowns, staffs, spears, icons, and statuary, though the high priests resemble modern Greek Orthodox clergy in their black cloaks and tall miters.
One of the finest and most underrated Mozart tenors of his generation, and 60 years old at the time of this filming, Richard Lewis brings a magisterial gravitas, elegance, and tragic force to his portrayal of the title character, his light and lyrical yet powerful tenor investing his recitative pronouncements with authority and his arias with great beauty, despite some occasional strain and hoarseness at full bore.
There are many gains to casting the son, Idamante, with a tenor rather than the traditional mezzo, particularly when the role is sung as elegantly as Leo Goeke sings it. He does have a tendency to croon and swoop, but it is a flexible voice, and he sings as firmly in the Mozart style as Lewis, if with less polish. One is reminded that he made an effective Tamino and Don Ottavio in films during the same period. The only loss is timbral blend in his duet scenes with Ilia, but that is no loss in the fiercely engaged ensembles in which Lewis also participates; there it serves to balance.
With a creamy, richly textured soprano, Bozena Betly brings a depth and earnestness to Idamante’s beloved Ilia that is truly moving. The foreshadowings of Countess Almaviva have never been so evident in her aria, “Se il Padre perdei,” and one senses the pain that would ensue if Idomeneo were to act on his promise to the gods to sacrifice his son. In her aria at the opening of act III, she phrases elegantly and with impressive breath control, bringing out the darker partials of her voice, with only a few under-pitch moments. A strikingly young-looking Josephine Barstow (34 when she made this video) brings her trademark darkly bronzed mezzo qualities to the rip-snortingly forceful Electra, smitten with Idamante though destined to face grimmer fates upon her return home. The cast boasts a third impressive tenor in Alexander Oliver’s Arbace, always incisive in his parlando contributions and grippingly powerful heaven-storming third-act scena “Sventurata Sidon . . . Se colà ne fati è scritto,” in which he shows a greater vocal flexibility than do his two tenor colleagues.
John Pritchard, always a thoughtful Mozartean, is captured in fine form (though the orchestra is not always caught in perfect balance or tuning, a problem “amplified” by rattling microphone distortion). His tempos and phrasing seem inerrant, and there is a particular poignancy that he invests into the crucial recitatives of the tormented king. He is an ideal partner for Lewis in the powerful act II sequence leading to “Fuor del mar.” The Glyndebourne chorus is responsive and well drilled throughout, coming through as a particularly fierce and engaged Greek chorus in the storm sequence at the end of act II, where the sea monster that emerges possesses a certain stylized gothic power, and in the powerful sequence in the last act when Idomeneo publicly confronts the horror of his own oath. In no other Mozart opera is the chorus so important, and one almost wishes he had explored the possibilities of French Tragèdie-Lyrique more often in his career.
There are no extras to this DVD, and it should be noticed that the sound retains the same limitations and microphone distortions that would have accompanied the original VHS release. It is, for better or worse, a simple digitization of a filmed-for-television production, with glaring overhead lighting that would probably not quite match the actual theater lighting, though it was recorded during a live performance. The somewhat flat dynamic range captured by the microphones can be wearying, but this recording can still be confidently recommended.
Christopher Williams, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Idomeneo, K 366 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Bozena Betley (Soprano),
Richard Lewis (Tenor),
Leo Goeke (Tenor),
Josephine Barstow (Soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Written: 1781; Munich, Germany
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