The Florentine’s powerful “Idomeneo”
Spectacular singing and a smart production make Mozart's last opera seria urgent and modern.
People will talk about John La Bouchardière’s ingenious and valid new staging, for the Florentine Opera, of Mozart’s Idomeneo. Conversation, and perhaps a bit of controversy, will turn on the spartan stage, with all of Uihlein Hall’s stage viscera exposed; the modern dress; the black monoliths that roll about; and the exquisite videos, by Kathy Wittman, that loom like thought balloons behind the singers, to show their characters’ memories, desires and fears.
The staging fascinates as it intensifies the drama and makes the tale of the King of Crete’s return from the Trojan War feel very much of our own time. The captive Trojans, robed in oranges and umbers, could be from some backward Balkan land. The Greeks, chic in shades of blue, are decidedly Western.
But let’s put all that aside for a moment and talk about the most important thing: Singing.
Soprano Georgia Jarman, as the sociopathic Elettra, rang as clear and pointed as her spike heels — except during the aria in which she imagined seducing the hero Idamante, and seduced us in the process. Jarman has blossomed into a very great singer, endowed with power, technique, agility and a deadly sense of timbrel and emotional nuance. In her third visit here (after Daughter of the Regiment and Rigoletto), she proved herself a compelling and versatile actress. Going in, I had a hard time imagining Jarman as a Bad Girl. Not any more.
Mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy, in the castrato/trouser role of Idamante, was Jarman and Elettra’s worthy foil. Piques Eddy is a slip of a girl, but she sold her manliness in her poised stride and in her vocal power and assertive delivery. Idamante represents Mozart’s conservative Enlightenment ideal of a nobleman: Courageous, passionate, but willing to rein in appetites and even sacrifice himself for the public good. In her stance and in a mezzo voice at once rich and brilliant, Piques Eddy embodies that ideal. She and her Idamante were both noble in the best sense of the word.
Ilia, the Trojan princess, is Idamante’s female reflection and natural match, despite the recent unpleasantness between their two tribes. Their own virtue is among the obstacles that keeps them apart, an irony that becomes more and more touching as the opera goes on. The radiant warmth of Marie-Eve Munger’s soprano made Ilia irresistibly lovable. Nothing about her singing was forced or pretentious, and everything about it spoke of Ilia’s inner beauty and simplicity. Munger did lurch and slouch a little too much early on, when Ilia was a terrified captive. But she found her footing and became a strong, convincing actress in the latter half, just as her princess found her footing in a post-Troy world.
Soaring, lyric lines abound in Mozart’s music for King Idomeneo, who makes a deal with Neptune to avoid drowning and lives to regret it. Tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz gave them Verdian ping and amplitude, which is just right for the king’s big, honest emotions. Idomeneo is caught between sacrificing his son to meet the terms of Neptune’s deal or seeing his island suffer from the god’s assaults. He doesn’t know what to do and covers it up, and the feeling can only break out in sung soliloquies. Chacón-Cruz didn’t quite have the agility to really stick the coloratura work Mozart assigned to him, but his moving way with the big, lyrical line made him a big success in the role.
Scott Stewart’s Florentine Chorus had a little trouble with ensemble now and then, probably because they were often scattered about the vast open stage. Again, this was a small matter. Their robust sound, true pitch and strong stage presence carried the day. All the comprimari — Stephen Lusmann, Matthew Richardson, Dan Richardson, Erica Schuller and Kristin DiNinno — did well.
Don’t miss it; just one performance left, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday (May 20), at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. Call the Marcus box office, 414 273-7206.