Notes and Editorial Reviews
René Jacobs' ongoing recorded survey of Mozart's operas has reached the composer's first masterpiece, Idomeneo, premiered in Munich in 1781. And again, Jacobs has proved incapable of a haphazard or thoughtless interpretation. In an accompanying DVD, during which we see rehearsals and meet the singers and characters, Jacobs explains that this opera, with its plot concerning a king's promise to the god Neptune to sacrifice the first person he sees if he arrives home safely, actually puts the entire concept of religion in question: "Love is worth more than a promise made in fear," he explains. And much to his credit, upon listening to this set for the first time (and before seeing the
DVD and learning of Jacobs' conception), I felt that this was the most human-scaled performance of the work I had ever heard, and quite touching and beautiful at that.
The emphasis on intimacy is underscored by Jacobs' choice of voices. There will be divided opinions about Sunhae Im's Ilia--we're used to a more substantial sound in this role. Her very light, silvery soprano is just this side of a soubrette, but her pointed delivery and laser-like purity precludes any lack of emotional weight or seriousness; her singing is ravishing and her plight is never to be overlooked. "Zeffiretti lusinghieri", though somewhat over-embellished (this is an issue throughout), is hypnotically lovely, and is delivered in long, smooth breaths.
As Idamante, the remarkable Bernarda Fink adds another fine characterization to her quiver; she is every inch the prince, son, lover, and her long confrontation with Idomeneo, all in recitative, carries great dramatic weight. A slight roughness in her tone shows up occasionally, but it suits the situation.
In the title role, I doubt that Richard Croft ever will be bettered. He doesn't bring the "large" Italian tenor that Domingo and Pavarotti brought to the role, but neither is he a pallid, English, proper singer. The voice has plenty of meat on it and he is so adept at fast passagework that he opts for the almost impossibly florid version of "Fuor del mar", nails every note, and--heaven help us--adds a flourish or two! He is noble throughout, and a loving father.
Jacobs clearly sees Elettra as mad from the start (she is, after all, on Crete because she's escaped her homeland having just murdered her mother), and Alexandrina Pendatchanska brings ideal weight, pitch, expressivity, and lunacy to the role, with Jacobs' fast tempos, even in her first aria and quick changes of mood in her second, as manifestations of her craziness. And her use of pianissimo is stunning, dramatically right, and lovely to hear--and gives her a vulnerability and misery that is often overlooked. It's not easy being Elettra.
Tenor Kenneth Tarver as Arbace, given both of his arias, is animated and accurate in coloratura and alert in his recitatives; Nicolas Rivenq is a bit light as the Gran Sacerdote (although this may be part of Jacobs' master plan to play down the deities and play up the mortals); and Luca Tittoto offers a fine, sonorous bass to La Voce.
As mentioned above, Jacobs allows--indeed, encourages--plenty of embellishments to the vocal lines (even in Elettra's already outrageously busy "D'Oreste, d'Ajace"), as well as appoggiaturas galore and continuo riffs from both pianoforte and cello that comment on the recitatives they are supporting. Whether or not you find the almost omnipresent continuo an intrusion will be a matter of taste. I like how it sets the scenes, although I probably could have done with less pianoforte during Elettra's "Idol mio". Occasionally a long legato line is interrupted for a variation that is unexpected, but it invariably serves to heighten the drama.
The intimate scenes are exquisitely handled, with the recitatives delivered dramatically and at true conversational tempos, and each singer has been urged to watch Mozart's dynamic markings very closely. The public scenes have the necessary grandeur, and even the chorus emphasizes the text: the hymns and praises to Neptune that make up the finale to the first act are delivered ceremoniously, with soloists alternating with full chorus very effectively. The terrifying conclusion to Act 2 is similarly awe-inspiring. The Freiburger Barockorchester plays like a group of virtuosi. This is a very special, terrifically entertaining Idomeneo.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Idomeneo, K 366 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Luca Tittoto (Bass),
Richard Croft (Tenor),
Bernarda Fink (Mezzo Soprano),
Nicolas Rivenq (Baritone),
Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Soprano),
Sunhae Im (Soprano)
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra,
Berlin Radio Chamber Choir
Written: 1781; Munich, Germany
Featured Sound Samples
Idomeneo: Act I: Chorus: "Nettuno s'onori"
Act II: Aria: "Fuor del mar"
Act III: Quartet: "Andrò ramingo e solo"
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