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Recordings

W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo
16 Nov 2006

MOZART: Idomeneo

After an apparently successful premiere in 1781, Mozart’s Idomeneo fell out of favor, not being revived in the composer’s lifetime and staying dormant in the 19th century and first half of the 20th.

W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo

Waldemar Kmentt, Werner Krenn, Lisa della Casa, Sena Jurinac, Reid Bunger, Manfred Jungwirth, Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Jaroslav Krombholc (cond.)

Ponto PO-1044 [2CDs]

$11.98  Click to buy

Surely this fate derives from the disfavor that any work in the “opera seria” form faced, with the greater popularity of earthy, vital Italian opera, especially verismo. Recent decades have seen a renewed appreciation for all of Mozart’s work, and a blossoming of singers who shine in early Classical repertory.

Thus today Idomeneo makes frequent appearances on opera stages, usually with a musical performance sensitive to the orchestral and vocal practices of Mozart’s era. This Ponto CD, however, from a Vienna Opera staging in 1971, offers a bold, passionate, unashamedly Romantic take on the score. Many passages call to mind the darker edges and fuller sound of later Mozart, especially the final symphonies, and the final choral outburst sounds as if came from an early draft of the Requiem.

Purists may balk, but this Idomeneo may make many a listener who had never warmed to the opera feel the heat radiated from a truly exciting performance. Jarosloav Krombholc may not be a household name, but his conducting is expertly paced and committed. Unfortunately, the recorded sound tends to approach distortion at loud climaxes, but those who appreciate the excitement of a good in-house recording will know that allowances must be made. And for once the inclusion of applause, quite lengthy at times, adds to the atmosphere rather than detracts from the musical impetus.

The male voices triumph, though once again, what might be called “inauthenticity”rears its handsome, if you will, head. In the title role, Waldemar Kmentt sings with the grand authority and furious power of a Verdi Otello, while still managing an admirable agility in the great show piece “Fuor del mar.”Andrew Palmer’s informative booklet essay confusingly claims that this performance features a soprano in the role of Idamante, almost always sung by a mezzo these days. Well, the biographical note after the short essay correctly identifies Werner Krenn as a tenor, and as Idamante. He does sound like a younger Kmentt, and yet he is distinctive enough to have his own vocal identity.

Though far more well-known that the two tenors, the two name female voices on this set make troublesome contributions. Caught late in her career for the role of the princess Ilia, Lisa della Casa sings laboriously much of the time, with frequent lapses in intonation at the top of her range. Moments recall the greatness she had possessed, but that may not mitigate the overall weakness of her singing for many listeners. Sena Jurinac, by comparison, sings better in the fiery role of Elettra, and the role can lend itself to a certain amount of less than beautiful singing. Jurinac makes some unpleasant sounds as the tessitura rises and the coloratura gets more ornate. Those raw moments aside, hers is an exciting performance.

Is this an Idomeneo for those who don't really care for Idomeneo? Possibly. But anyone who enjoys full-bodied Mozart and strong tenor singing should find this set most enjoyable listening.

Chris Mullins

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