Peter Sellars' production of Mozart's Idomeneo caused an almighty stink when it opened at Glyndebourne earlier this year. I missed its notorious first incarnation, though now that the staging has been reworked for Glyndebourne Touring Opera, it would seem things have changed somewhat. What was sprawling has become taut. The focus has been sharpened. Though there are still flaws, the evening now packs a considerable punch.
Shortening the score has doubtless helped. At the main festival, the opera was given complete. We must also remember, however, that Mozart himself considered the work too long, though there is still considerable confusion as to what he actually cut at the Munich premiere in 1781. In this instance, conductor Kenneth Montgomery has jettisoned a couple of arias and excised the ballet in its entirety. The result immeasurably tightens the dramatic impact. Montgomery, meanwhile, allows the score to unfold with a ratchet-like intensity and a remarkable sense of its architectural and metaphysical grandeur, without ever losing sight of the inner torment of the protagonists.
At the centre is a performance of considerable power from Peter Bronder as Idomeneo, his body racked with emotion, his voice at once noble and terrified. His coloratura expresses a deep inner anguish and his colloquies with Julianne de Villiers' confused, dignified Idamante have tremendous force. Ilia, meanwhile, is played by Marie Arnet as a strong, self-assured woman rather than a waif-like victim, while Cara O'Sullivan is a manic Elettra, clearly unbalanced from the start, her vocal pyrotechnics delivered with an almost deranged ferocity.
Sellars' reworking of the Trojan myth to reflect current events in the Middle East remains awkward, however. The Greeks are members of a secularised, imperialist western society, possibly the US-British alliance, while the Trojans are Muslims. This skews one of Mozart's main points, namely that the Trojan conflict, though emblematic of the futility and waste of war, was fought by opposing nations that nevertheless shared a common belief system. The other main problem is Anish Kapoor's set, a red web of membranes and orifices. In its own right, it's a remarkable piece of sculpture, but it never once suggests another of the opera's central themes, namely that the characters' destinies are reflected, as in Shakespeare, in the metaphysical convulsions of the natural universe, which is ruled, in turn, by a savage, uncaring God.
In rep at Glyndebourne (01273 813813) until October 23, then touring.
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