DAZZLING DUO: IAN BOSTRDGE AND HUNT LIEBERSON.
Idomeneo is usually classified as an 'opera seria', a form characterized by heroic emotion and dramatic purpose. Bursting with Mozart's abundant musical gifts, the work offers arias and ensemble pieces that explore the unhappy conflicts of each character. Written by Mozart at the age of twenty five years, first performed in 1781, it reflects the operatic conventions of the time.
THE PLOT: Idomeneo, King of Crete, returning home victorious from war with Troy, encounters a threatening storm, and bargains with Neptune, in return for his fleet's safe passage, to sacrifice the first person he sees on shore; he sees his son (shades of 'Jephtha') Idamante first. Hoping to avoid Neptune's wrath. he sends his son away. Idamante is in love with a Trojan princess Ilia, and she loves him as does another female exilist Elettra. Naturally, breaking a vow to a god will have repercussions and Neptune sends a sea monster to ravish Crete. Our hero, Idamante, slays the monster and offers himself as the promised sacrifice, as does Ilia (what a surprise), but Neptune intervenes (in Jephtha it was an angel) and everyone lives happily ever after (except the monster) and Elettra who flies into a murderous rage and leaves the scene, fortunately for all concerned.
What makes this opera 'tough sell' is that it would be difficult to bring off onstage, but it's rewarding to hear at home. Another difficulty is that it is old-fashioned in character. When demons drag Don Giovanni down to hell, that's believable drama, but when a sea monster rears up in Act II (though this worked in an earlier era in Handel's 'Giustino'), and terrorizes the people of Crete, that's dated!
Be that as it may, this is an excellent recording and a great listening treat. The stand-out is Ian Bostridge in the title role; his coloratura in 'Fuor del mar' is performed effortlessly, fully encompassing the character's paternal tenderness and royal bearing. Paired with the mellifluous voice of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson as his son Idamante, we are gifted with a great duo who fit neatly together. Lisa Milne sings sweetly the role of Ilia and indeed performs her part to perfection. The role of Elettra as sung by Barbara Frittoli is somewhat weak, but her final aria at the end 'D'Oreste, d'Aiace' is passionately delivered. The always outstanding Anthony Rolfe Johnson (sadly recently deceased) is somewhat wasted in the role of Arbace for he would have made a marvelous Idomeneo; though Bostridge was superb. There are many and varied ensembles: duets, trios and quartets that enhance and beautify the scenes, all sung with intensity and skill.
Mackerras (deceased July, 2010)keeps all his forces moving along, eschewing any great contrast in tempos, although quite sensitive to the many details and niceties often ignored by other conductors. The way he uses his chorus is reminiscent of Handel in his oratorios. In this opera the chorus definitely contributes and compliments the ensuing action. The Edinburgh Festival Chours adds mightily to the high quality of this production as does the expert playing ofthe Scottish Chamber Orchestra. (This recording is a rerelease at a more reasonable price.)
BBC MAGAZINE, AUGUST 2007: "Mackerras gives Eliot Gardiner a run for his money. Hunt Lieberson sings a good Idamante and Lisa Milne may well be the best Ilia on record."
EDITOR'S CHOICE GRAMOPHONE: "...this new set, enshrining Mackerras's profound and mature understanding of the music, is the most moving of the opera, perhaps of any opera, that I have heard on record."