Tom Strini

The Florentine’s powerful “Idomeneo”

Spectacular singing and a smart production make Mozart's last opera seria urgent and modern.

By - May 19th, 2012 02:13 am
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ilia-idomeneo-video-florentine

Marie-Eve Munger takes a dip, for the Kathy Wittman video. Before the action of the play, Idamante has saved her from drowning.

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.

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Sandra Piques Eddy and Marie-Eve Munger: Noble love. Still from Kathy Wittman’s video for the Florentine Opera.

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.

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Arturo Chacon-Cruz: As soon as he washes ashore, he knows he shouldn’t have made that deal with Neptune. From Kathy Wittman’s video.

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.

Joseph Rescigno conducted the singers and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. A little messiness occurred in the pit, too, but again, the big picture was clear. Both Rescigno and La Bouchardière understood that Idomeneo must start slow and gradually, almost imperceptibly turn the screws of dramatic tension and momentum. They measured that perfectly and put on a show that became ever more gripping and intense.

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.

0 thoughts on “The Florentine’s powerful “Idomeneo””

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this review. Spot on. My husband and I thought the staging was perfect, the minimalism harkening back to Greek theaters as you seem them in Greece. I thought the film clips with back stories was a fantastic idea even though my husband and I who are well-versed in the story did not need them. The opera itself blows me away and BOTH orchestra and singers were spot on.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Tom for this superb review, a fine preparation for an involving experience in the theater Sunday afternoon! The music and vocalism was uniformly fine, though I was not thrilled with the Director’s concept. I do hope to hear more of this cast in future Florentine productions, and elsewhere.

    This review and a preliminary piece two days earlier were exactly what one hopes for, when an unfamiliar work like Idomeneo is presented locally: really these articles deserved the widest possible publication! One fears for the cultural institutions of the whole city, if the mainstream media fails to help explain what’s available.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dan and Jill, thanks so much for commenting. I do try. — Strini

  4. Anonymous says:

    It does puzzle me however why you perfectly accurately criticized Chacon-Cruz when he appeared in Rigoletto for having “a powerful instrument but a blunt one” where it doesn’t seem to me to matter all that much and yet let him get away with exactly the same fault in Idomeneo, where it definitely does. What he did to the first act aria was appalling no matter how loud the applause he got afterwards.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Margaret, thanks for commenting. I thought Chacon-Cruz sang with much more nuance than he did as the Duke in Rigoletto, and with much less drifting pitch on sustained tones. He could be better, but he’s made some progress, to my ear, and showed it in a more difficult role. — Strini

  6. Anonymous says:

    This was a good review. One of the reasons Idomeneo isn’t performed a lot is because it’s quite static (though the music is glorious). Director John LaBouchardiere should be commended for his multi-media approach. It may not have worked for some, but the opera itself doesn’t work for some, either.

    This was Ms Jarman’s FOURTH appearance with Florentine; how could you forget her stunning performance as Guilietta in I Capuletti e i Montecchi ? She’s a class act, the total package.

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