Opera Scotland

Idomeneo, Re di Creta 2024Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Read more about the opera Idomeneo, Re di Creta

Mozart's great opera seria is still performed with relative rarity.  It must be remembered that it received its UK premiere at the hands of the wonderful Glasgow Grand company as recently as 1934.  The Censervatoire last did it twenty years ago, and since then there has just been a single (rather good) concert performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2010.

Some of the writing for individual soloists such as Idomeneo and Elettra is fiendishly difficult, and stretches the singers'' resources to the full..  However theConservatoire's production of Massenet's Cendrillon in January showed that the student body contains some excellent voices, including the two tenors required for the title role and his adviser Arbace.

However there was a difficulty.  One of those excellent tenors, James Schouten, was ill throughout the run, and the title role is a part that cannot be attempted by a singer who is below par.  Luckily another tenor, Aidan Thomas Philips, was able to sing the role from the auditorium right next to the stage and largely invisible to the audience.  James Schouten was reduced to miming the complicated prduction moves while doing an excellent job of lip-synching.

The great joy of this event, at least at the third performance, came from the wonderfully dramatic conducting of John Butt.  He drew beautiul sounds from the 46-piece orchestra and the wonderful chorus of twenty.  The wonderful last act quartet was beautifully paced.  An unusually full text was performed.  Arbace is normally lucky to be allowed to sing even one of his arias.  Here he sang both of them, the second being a bit of a beast, beautifully delivered by Daniel Gray Bell.

Nikki Martin, the Ilia, is the important sympathetic character, and she made an excellent impression in a numner of important solos.

Rosie Lavery was a fine Elettra, particularly effective in her extended dramatic recitatives.  Her two contrasting arias in the first two acts were beautifully delivered.  Her third act mad scene, frequently omitted from professional performances, was also omitted here.

Fanzhuo Wei was an excellent High Priest, while Joshua McCullough's sepulchral tones made much of Neptune - usually just an off-stage voice, but here a flesh-and-blood figure appearing several times through the evening.

Idamante, Idomeneo's son, is the other important solo character.  He has frequently been sung by good tenors, but that can upset some of the musical harmonies (especially the quartet mentioned above).  The part was composed for castrato and should really be sung by a mezzo, as here.  It has in the past been taken by several great artists, including Dame Janet Baker (at Covent Garden) and Joyce DiDonato (in the Usher Hall).  That promising young artist Charlotte Bateman here gave an excellent account of the part.

For the most part the staging by PJ Harris worked well.  As usual, nowadays, modern dress was chosen - Idomeneo and Arbace wore modern naval uniform, with the chorus in army-style fatigues.  Where it went adrift was in the decision to change Idamante's gender.  We are now quite accustomed to females singing male characters - whether by composer's choice (Cherubino, Octavian. Composer, Lorca in Ainadamar), or for convenience according to availability of singers (Handel and others). With references to 'her' and 'daughter' the relationships became unnecessarily complicated, not just in the Idamante-Ilia-Elettra triangle, but also with the apparent unrequited love of Arbace for Idamante and his apparent suicide attempt after his final aria.

Apart from this irrelevant detail the staging work well, and the excellence of the musical performance made everything worthwhile.

Performance DatesIdomeneo, Re di Creta 2024

Map List

New Athenaeum Theatre | Glasgow

16 Mar, 18.30 18 Mar, 19.30 20 Mar, 18.30 22 Mar, 18.30

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