[Can we not talk about my hair? Can, can you just be kissing me now? – in Mozart’s “Idomeneo”, Vienna (Theater an der Wien) 2013.]
Since were are still on the issue of Idomeneo: here is another one. Where Bondy’s staging, mentioned last week, is ultimately gentle (if a little too gentle, perhaps), this Damiano Michieletto production is a slice of bleak, war-torn dystopia, from the discarded boots of the fallen warriors (a striking image) to the harsh and cold light. I believe there is not a single instance of warm light throughout the entire performance. The staging has a very Matrix-like feel to it, with a side of Wall-E (but sans the adorability thrown in: a lone plant gets planted by Ilia, but immediately mauled by Elektra) and I have to admit that it left me spooked for a few hours afterwards.
The staging is focused on the concept of genealogy, so it is more of the patrilinear hegemony thought that was discussed in relation to the Bondy staging. The staged overture starts with a distant Idomeneo dressing a child Idamante in a suit and than marching of (for Troy, I assume). In the act of rebellion of freeing the captures Trojans, Idamante dons a prisoner’s clothes and ends up with the young trouser mezzo uniform of cargo pants and a shirt with rolled up sleeves (the prisoner shrinks away from him at first – there is a lot of indirect narrative on violence here). Only in the end, he is back in a suit, upholding his newborn baby (a son, I presume, jaded as I am) to his late father as if to say “I get it now! And the lineage continues!”, while Ilia lies discarded to the side (a disturbing image, but it makes sense if you single out the focus on lineage that “Idomeneo” has). It fits into the same line of thought that Idomeneo dies as soon as he steps down as king, equally discarded when void of his function, and that has sparked here the idea to turn Neptune into life itself in the shape of an unborn child in an ultrasound image (perhaps Ilia’s child?).
Is there hope?
[Actual hopeful mud puppies! and did anyone else have those exact same shoes in their late teens? – Gaëlle Arquez (Idamante) and Sophie Karthäuser (Ilia), “Idomeneo”, Vienna 2013]
This “Idomeneo” is grittier, not afraid to make viewers uncomfortable. Ilia gets pushed about and threatened physically by Elettra, who is only interested in Idamante as a ticket to the throne, when that looks shaky, she zones in on Idomeneo instead, a much more even match in power. Ilia is also pregnant, and during “Se il padre perdei” (Stockholm syndrom aria?), I was queasily sure that her child has been fathered by Idomeneo – to the victor the spoils. She sings of new hope and forgiveness and folds baby clothes, focusing on new life instead. Later on, I also wondered whether Idamante is supposed to be the biological father, in a Marquise von O. sort of twist (I am still not sure. What is your take on it?).
Since René Jacobs is conducting, basically all the music ever written for “Idomeneo” is present, including the third Elettra aria (yes!), and the final ballet (which serves to have Ilia give birth) as well as the brief Ilia/Idamante duet before the would-be sacrifice. And on a staging note: what do you do when you think you will die? You kiss your love goodbye for long seconds, that’s what, in this envisioning.
[Also, hands. – Gaëlle Arquez (Idamante) and Sophie Karthäuser (Ilia), “Idomeneo”, Vienna 2013.]
Richard Croft throws experience and seniority into his Idomeneo, a much heftier performance than Davislim under Harding – not even that much in voice, but in attitude. He sings as if it were not a job, but an office and it is, much like in the 2006 “Mitridate” a sensation not unlike watching a mountain summit climb happen. And yet his material remains surprisingly intact; in a few moments, I still remember his Belfiore for Drottningholm in 1990.
Ilia, here a tougher, worn fugitive, is Sophie Karthäuser, still rather young here, in a very soulful, unsweetened performance. It may be my favorite work of hers up to date, as far as acting is concerned. When Idamante comes back from laying the beast only to be slain himself, she does not dare to turn around, as if hoping it to be him, but afraid it isn’t, and when he speaks, she crumbles. A strong moment of various throughout this evening from her.
[Footsies! And, really, this smile is the brightest thing you will see all night, safe for some hot pink glitter on Elettra. – Sophie Karthäuser (Ilia), “Idomeneo”, Vienna 2013.]
Gaëlle Arquez as Idamante – acting-wise a bit left hung out to dry as in the underwear Non ho colpa”, which still is a working, if not terribly original, take on vulnerability – has a “Young Raquel Welsh, but Gay (and my fairy godmotehr is Hilary Swank)” vibe going on that is most distracting. I am not complaining (save for the wig perhaps. Who thinks it is a good idea to prefer ill-fitting short hair to natural hair?!).
[“Cargo? That’s your pitch?” Or perhaps it’s “Baby, you can fix my car”.- Baby butch meets high maintenance femme. – Gaëlle Arquez (Idamante) and Marlis Petersen (Elettra), “Idomeneo”, Vienna 2013.]
And then, of course, this production has the absolute luxury Elettra: Marlis Petersen, who is a singer-actress of Naglestad proportions, and equally prone to commanding the stage in barely any clothes. Her Elettra here is a ruthless, power-grabbing, catty, Machiavellian snob with a penchant for shopping. Hence Petersen gets to parade a line of the tackiest, shrillest outfits to ever grace a Mozart stage and of course she is a riot in those moments.
[Madonna ca. Music called and wants her outfit back. – Marlis Petersen as Elettra, “Idomeneo,” Vienna 2013.]
Petersen commands the stage easily, as per usual, her singing is practically spotless even when she uses her first aria to beat up a pregnant Ilia. In her third aria, thankfully left in play, she has no qualms of turning herself literally into a Fury after already having wielded the sacrificial ax as if she were her mother.
The production, thanks to OnlyMozart1, is available in full on YT in HD (subtitles French only):