50 shades of Grey in Robert Carsen’s stunningly gritty production of Idomeneo
Review: Idomeneo4:21, 4th February 2020
Idomeneo, re di Creta – Mozart
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Idomeneo is not the easiest of Mozart’s works to stage, forming as it does a bridge between his earlier operas and the later masterpieces. All credit, then, to Robert Carsen, who has succeeded in producing a staging that respects the work’s classical form while endowing it with a startling contemporary relevance
The setting is present-day Crete. Against video projections of a changing, stormy sky, we see a group of refugees trapped in a wire-netting cage. Idomeneo, in military uniform, his shadow projected against a bank of threatening clouds, opens the cage to duet with his beloved Ilia, the Trojan princess now fleeing for her life, in a simple gesture that communicates his power over life and death. It’s a breathtaking beginning which sets a standard for the whole production. Peter Van Praet’s lightning and Will Duke’s videos of the sea in its many moods projected on an enormous screen are an integral part of the action: seldom have at least 50 shades of grey been used so effectively.
In a cast whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts, Rosa Feola created an iconic Ilia, consistent throughout her considerable range, with lovely phrasing and beautifully clear diction, even at moments of extreme grief. Her death monologue plucked at the heartstrings. Her rival, Miah Persson’s Elettra, by turns vindictive and despairing, was also most affecting, especially in her final suicidal ‘O smania, O furie’. Joel Prieto was a handsome Idamante, whose voice, despite a weakness in its lowest register, effectively conveyed a wide range of emotions and softened touchingly on realising that his father, a mature and regal Charles Workman, was trying to protect him. Even the offstage Voice of Neptune, Andrii Ganchuck, had an imposing dignity. He’s a graduate of the opera’s own training programme, and deserves to be heard in a larger role.
Michele Mariotti, conducting the Vienna version without Arbace’s two strenuous arias, was alert to every detail of the score, paying close attention to the singers, and never afraid to pause at length where the music demanded it. The recitatives, in a glance backwards, had a continuo accompaniment, but cello and keyboard skipped and breathed as one with the singers. The huge chorus, ably trained by Roberto Gabbiani, included 30 people, refugees and homeless, from the city’s Sant’ Egidio project. In a fine dramatic coup, they cast off their uniforms to become civilians for the final chorus in praise of love. Carsen’s stated themes are individual responsibility, and morality in a war setting. His message to us all about how we should welcome the stranger in our midst could not be clearer.