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Opera Essentials: Idomeneo

Our quick guide to Martin Kušej's new production of Mozart's early masterpiece for The Royal Opera.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

24 October 2014 at 1.00pm | 1 Comment

The Story Begins…

King Idomeneo has established a tyrannical regime in Crete. While he is absent at the Trojan War, his son Idamante makes efforts to create a more peaceful society. Idomeneo returns to find his country in a state of rebellion. To what limits will he go to curb his son’s plans for freedom?

Mozart in Munich

Mozart wrote Idomeneo during 1780. The opera was a commission for the Munich Residenztheater for the 1780–81 Carnival. Mozart had a largely excellent cast of singers, and the first performances of the work in January 1781 were a success. However, apart from a Vienna performance, for which Mozart rewrote the castrato part of Idamante for a tenor, the opera was not performed again until the 19th century. In recent decades the opera has increasingly become a part of the repertory and gained in reputation.

Operatic Reform

Mozart was influenced in the composition of Idomeneo by Gluck’s operatic reforms, which included an increased concentration on choral and ensemble writing, and a predominance of orchestral (rather than continuo) recitative. Idomeneo contains one of Mozart’s most strikingly beautiful ensembles, the quartet ‘Andrò, ramingo e solo’ in Act III. The talents of the first singers of Idomeneo, Ilia and Elettra are shown in the superb arias Mozart gave these characters.

A Classical Story

Idomeneo is based on the classical story of Idomeneus, a Cretan commander who fought alongside Agamemnon in the Trojan War. Idomeneus also featured as the protagonist of Idomenée, a 1712 opera by André Campra and Antoine Danchet. Both the classical story and Campra’s opera had tragic endings, in which Idomeneo goes ahead with the sacrifice of his son.

Political and Personal Conflicts

Martin Kušej’s new production of the opera highlights the troubled relationship between Idomeneo and Idamante and their conflicting political ideals. Idomeneo is a tyrannical ruler, who rather than being controlled by the gods makes use of the idea of them to prevent his son establishing a more liberal regime.

Idomeneo runs 3–24 November 2014. Tickets are still available.

The production is a co-production with Opéra de Lyon and Vlaamse Opera, Antwerp, and is generously supported by the Friends of Covent Garden.

This article has 1 comment

  1. David Glynn responded on 8 November 2014 at 11:02am Reply

    The above photograph says everything that is wrong with this production. Kusej turns the characterisation on its head - this is Kusej's Idomeneo, not Mozart's.

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