Lyric Opera delivers a moving tale of love, despair, and angry gods in their production of Mozart Idomeneo
The Lyric Opera interior is a masterpiece all on its own. The ornate, gilded decor transports you to a sophisticated world, from the sweeping lobby full of well-dressed people (although there isn’t a dress code) to the stunning theatre architecture. The show starts with enthusiastic applause for the conductor, Sir Andrew Davis, and the orchestra. As most of the audience is aware, The Lyric Opera production of Idomeneo was delayed due to union negotiations with the musicians. The show of support from the audience for Lyric’s musicians is an uplifting way to start our journey into the story of Idomeneo.
The menacing visage of Neptune, god of the sea, looms over the stage in various forms-on several scrims and a large set piece. Clever lighting evokes a range of feelings about Neptune-everything from awe and amazement to overbearing and terrifying. The stark stage includes steps and columns that set the scene as both ruins and bustling city settings.
Idomeneo takes place after the Trojan war in Crete. The captive Trojan Princess, Ilia (heartwarmingly portrayed by Janai Brugger), opens the show with a moving number mourning her loss but also becoming aware of her possible affections for the Prince of Crete Idamante (Angela Brower). Ilia wears a flowing white gown that hints at her status as a prisoner and highlights her role as the story’s main romantic interest. The young prince pledges his love for her and frees her and her people. Ilia and Idamante’s budding love story is interrupted by the Princess Elettra (Erin Wall) who also loves the Prince, although her feelings are unrequited.
Just as everything seems to be going well with Idamante, we discover that his father King Idomeneo (Matthew Polenzani) has been in a devastating ship wreck. He miraculously survived by making a bargain with Neptune-the lives of the crew spared in exchange for the life of the first person Idomeneo sees on the shore. Most unfortunately this fate befalls the young prince. Idomeneo is quite distraught over this task and responds by distancing himself from his son. Idamante’s anguish at being unable to reconnect with his father, who keeps his son at a distance because of his predicament, is a particularly stirring part of the show. Idomeneo tries to find a loophole in his deal with Neptune, even resorting to attempting to send his son away however Neptune will not be fooled and sends a sea monster to attack. The terror caused on by the attack is brought to life by the energetic ensemble number at the close of the second act. The portrayal of the sea monster is shown through the Neptune set piece moving to a more prominent position onstage was effective at highlighting Neptune’s presence. However, it left this writer wanting even more in terms of actual presence of a monster. Eventually Idomeneo comes clean about his deal with Neptune and what must be done to stop the murder of his people by the sea-monster.
Idamante bravely defeats the sea monster and willingly brings himself to his father to be sacrificed. Ilia, unable to live without him, confesses her love for the prince and offers herself as sacrifice instead. Neptune is so moved by this gesture he forgives all and makes Idamante king. While this storyline may sound a bit far fetched, within the world of opera - rich with magical music and stagecraft, even this fantastical story feels plausible.
Superb Vocal Performances Meeting Lyric Opera High Standard
The most compelling aspect of this production, in this reviewer’s view, were the vocal performances. Brower’s vocal performance as Idamante is strong and heartbreaking in some of the character’s more intense moments. Wall’s rival suitor Elettra is at times quite relatable and at other times comedic in her single-minded desire to be with Idamante. The powerful vocal performance and intricate and breathtaking gown (designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle) make Electra a character not soon forgotten. Although the rather abrupt ending to her story seems to disrupt the flow of the conclusion, the song itself is quite powerful and, in this writer’s opinion, one of the best numbers in the show. Polenzani, as the shows titular character, is another stand out vocal performance with his strong voice conveying the inner torment of Idomeneo. Another bright spot in the show is Arbace (David Portillo) who performs an upbeat number that adds some levity to the story.
The lighting (designed by Chris Maravich) was almost a character in its own in this piece. The lighting more than made up for the lack of set changes and helped shape and form the story. It also served to highlight the overall mood of each scene, especially Neptune’s by making his effigy appear at times divine and at others terrifying. It was also successful at creating either destruction or wholeness of the setting.
The biggest challenge for the audience in this show is the length. Clocking in a just under 4 hours, it seemed the seats were less full after the second 25 minute intermission. This show is ideal for opera and music lovers undeterred by a longer than average show. The action moves along swiftly and, in this writer’s opinion, didn’t feel long. The emotional honesty of the characters engages to the point where the length is relative.
Photos: Kyle Flubacher
Janai Brugger, Angela Brower, Erin Wall, David Portillo, Matthew Polenzani, Whitney Morrison, Kayleigh Decker, Josh Lovell, Alan Higgs, Noah Baetge, David Weigel, Sir Andrew Davis, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, David Kneuss, Chris Maravich, Michael Black, Sarah Hatten, David Carl Toulson, Rachel C. Henneberry, Keun-A Lee, Jennifer Condon, Maureen Zoltek, William Billingham, Francis Rizzo
Visit the Lyric Opera website for more information on upcoming productions.
About the Author
Taryn Smith graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
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