17 Jun 2009

Mozart: Idomeneo

“Mozart's first mature masterpiece,” Sophie Becker calls Idomeneo in the booklet essay of this DVD set of a June 2008 Bayerische Staatsoper staging.

Somehow this masterpiece needs director Dieter Dorn to work a “minor miracle” and present the characters of the opera seria as “genuine human beings” (Stewart Spencer translated Ms. Becker’s thoughts). Too bad in his maturity, Mozart and his music weren’t able to accomplish that feat…

Dorn provides a staging that could serve as an encyclopedia entry on regietheater in the opera world. The overture gets a pantomime that ostensibly provides background story but mostly serves to distract from the music. The set is not just bare, but denuded, with the rear of the stage, including rigging and exit doors, visible. A mishmash of costumes (designed by J├╝rgen Rose) range from a Samurai get-up for John Mark Ainsley’s Idomeneo, to a velvet evening gown for Annette Dasch’s Elettra, and some hideous prints for the other singers and chorus (are the men in Dockers, or the German equivalent?). Granted, Dorn doesn’t titillate with sex as much as he might, but he does have Rainer Trost as Arbace strip to the waist and then cut himself with a knife, letting the stage blood run down his arm. In a regietheater masterstroke, for the ballet sequence Dorn foregoes dancers and has supernumeraries drape white sheets over the props on stage at that point, and then some of the singers amble on to leisurely examine the scene.

Possibly this staging felt fresh and bold seen live. As captured by the cameras of the experienced Brian Large, the affair feels dated and dopey. As is usually the case with failed regietheater stagings (acknowledging that there are successes), Dorn doesn’t trust the material to hold an audience’s attention, and so tries a bit of updating, a bit of anachronism, a lot of unmotivated movement, and hopes it all adds up to a show, coherent or not.

The musical side of things, however, is mostly strong. Kent Nagano finds a nervous energy that moves the score forward while retaining classical form. All Ainsley is asked to do is glower and grimace, but he does that well. His “Fuor del mar” is an angry roar, yet never ugly, and he has the technique for runs that sound heavier with many an other tenor. Annette Dasch doesn’t chew the scenery as so many Elettras have done. Maybe that’s due to the lack of scenery, but Ms. Dasch has fire enough to bring the role off anyway. Nagano uses a tenor as Idamante, and Pavol Breslik is excellent in the role. As Arbace, Rainer Trost has moments of roughness in his delivery, but the weakest link is Juliane Banse as Ilia, who has some beautiful music but whose pitch in unreliable throughout the performance.

The Metropolitan Opera video with Luciano Pavarotti can be slow-moving and undramatic, but much of the singing is as strong, when not superior, to this performance, and the staging, while dull, at least makes a modicum of sense.

Chris Mullins