Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a 3 CD set with a bonus CD-Rom containing a libretto and synopsis.
Charles Mackerras gives us what may be the most complete Idomeneo on disc. He goes back to Mozart's original score, restoring the often massive cuts imposed in theatre performances as well as those Mozart made for the premiere. Thus, both of Arbace's arias are included, as is Elettra's wild "D'Oreste, d'Ajace", which often is shortened. Idomeneo's original, longer version of "Fuor del mar" is used, as is his final scene where the recitative and "Torna la pace" are commonly shortened to suit various considerations, not least of them the time factor that makes Idomeneo as lengthy as many Wagner operas. Cadenzas at the end of
arias are "adapted from Mozart's own cadenzas to arias by J.C. Bach." Mackerras uses the shorter versions of some recitatives and of Neptune's declamation, claiming that "Mozart actually made the artistic decisions himself rather than having them forced on him by practical considerations." I suspect it would be hard to find a composer who didn't alter manuscript versions for "practical considerations," which, as in the issue of theatrical effectiveness, blend into the artistic. But no matter; on disc it's good to have all three hours and 20 minutes of the original.
If completeness were the only consideration, Mackerras' Idomeneo would be well worth hearing. But it's more: it's the most dramatic, best all-round version of the opera. Once a rarity, Idomeneo is no stranger to opera houses and to recordings, so the story of the Cretan king's vow to sacrifice the first person he meets if Neptune allows him to survive a raging storm at sea is familiar. Of course, that first person is his own son, Idamante. Naturally, Idamante is loved by Elettra but loves Ilia. And of course, all turns out well as Neptune intervenes, Idomeneo abdicates in favor of Idamente (who will marry Ilia), and Elettra rushes off in a suicidal fury. The father-son and love triangle conflicts were familiar staples of opera seria, but Mozart invests the tradition with more fluid continuity, orchestral color, and sheer humanity than his earlier works in the form, all aspects to which Mackerras is wonderfully alive. He conducts with great dramatic flair, gets excellent playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and makes the stock situations touching, thanks to perfectly judged tempos. Of key importance since the recitatives bear the burden of the action, Mackerras ensures they flow naturally.
Idomeneo ideally wants a more mature voice than Ian Bostridge's, but its hard to fault him otherwise. He tackles the cruel coloratura demands of "Fuor del mar" with deceptive ease, and while there are occasional moments when more color would be welcome, such carping is unseemly given what he accomplishes here. It's a refreshing change from his usual bouts of over-interpreting texts. No reservations attach to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's Idamante, whose arias are sung with vocal luster and dramatic power. Hers is a complete portrait.
Elettra can come off as just a stage nasty, but to the degree allowed by the libretto and the music Barbara Frittoli gives us a rounded character whose fears and tensions are gripping. Her final scene, with her pointed recitative and thrillingly sung "D'Oreste, d'Ajace", stays in the memory. Lisa Milne's Ilia is not on the same level, but neither is her role; though she's spunky enough in the sacrifice scene, the voice tends to take on a sharp edge as recorded and is a less individual instrument than her colleagues'. Anthony Rolfe Johnson, the Idomeneo in John Eliot Gardiner's recording of the opera, is a fine Arbace, thankless though that role may be, and John Relyea's sonorous bass is effective in the small role of the voice from the deep.
The only flaw in this recording is the engineering. Balances unduly favor the voices at the expense of the orchestra. The bass is lightweight and there's a treble edge that compromises the colors of the female voices and does few favors to the men, too. Such sonics are harder to accept when they afflict such an outstanding musical performance. Even so, this is the Idomeneo to get when you're having only one.
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording
Idomeneo, K 366 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ursula Smith (Cello),
Barbara Frittoli (Soprano),
Lisa Milne (Soprano),
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor),
Paul Charles Clarke (Tenor),
John Relyea (Bass),
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Soprano),
Ian Page (Harpsichord),
Ian Bostridge (Tenor)
Sir Charles Mackerras
Scottish Chamber Orchestra,
Edinburgh Festival Chorus,
Written: 1781; Munich, Germany
Date of Recording: 2001
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
Length: 202 Minutes 15 Secs.
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