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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Florentine Opera's Wayward 'Idomeneo'

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Idomeneo, Mozart's early masterwork, was potential largely unrealized in the Florentine Opera last weekend. Almost all the principals in the cast sang well, and the amazing score was there, demanding to be heard. Still, it wasn't enough to make up for a wayward production.

Director and production designer John La Bouchardière seems to have aimed to draw a parallel between the religious aspects of the story, involving a solemn promise to the Greek god Neptune on the island of Crete, and religious conflicts of the present-day Middle East. This was a conceptual stretch, to say the least. In practice it was unformed in almost every way. The set, in dark steel grays, consisted almost entirely of two enormous panels on which short bits of film periodically appeared. The film rarely justified basing the production around these large box surfaces. Stretches of the production seemed little more than directorial doodling. The modern dress costumes added little to nothing.

One sensed that the venture attempted to be in the style of cutting-edge productions witnessed at English National Opera, for instance. Such an approach takes a far stronger, more unified concept and insightful attention to every organically integrated detail. This is the third opera production I've seen this season in the United States and Europe imposing a contemporary Middle Eastern conflict on a story that doesn't bear it, a trend I hope disappears soon enough.

As Idomeneo, Arturo Chacon-Cruz's singing was often thrilling, especially in the demanding aria near the end of the first act, even if he is not the most sophisticated Mozartean stylist around. Georgia Jarman, as Elettra, is the best kind of opera singer, one who acts with her pliable and responsive voice. Sandra Piques Eddy sang steadily and attractively as Idamante. At her best, Marie-Eve Munger gave Ilia's music shimmering sound. Stephen Lusmann struggled with vocal clarity as Arbace.

The prominent chorus needed much more disciplined sound; on Friday evening two choral spots nearly fell apart in ensemble. Joseph Rescigno's conducting was serviceable but rather mushy, creating some less-than-sharp playing from the blameless orchestra.
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