White Shirt Monday: Cargo Bae 2

[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):

16 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: Cargo Bae 2”

  1. In the light of your suspicions/intuitions being correct, it would make Ilia’s words to Idomeneo “I have found a father in you” a double entendre – in other words – ‘I have found a father (for my child) in you’. If so, this story lends itself to a truly sordid twist. Is naive, tormented, craven Idamante even dimly aware of the double betrayal by his father? Or not? Either way its hard to cast him in a favourable light isn’t it? All lofty pretensions of noble patrilineal succession then become quite farcical. If Idamante, is indeed cuckolded by his own father, that strips him (Idamante) of any heroic pretensions whatsoever. In this event, his servile worship of his father becomes even more reprehensible – or even despicable. If Idomeneo is the father of Ilia’s child, I see more reason for future despair rather than for any future hope, and Ilia would have to know this.This could only lead to a possible repeat of more rejection and more abuse of sons by their fathers, with Idamante rejecting his bastard son/brother and his sullied wife in a bizarre Oedipal reversal. Somehow I don’t think Mozart would have intended that. I think he would have been too squeamish and too fearful. Rather, could it be that Mozart made a confused attempt to cast Idomeneo biblically, as an obedient ‘Abraham’ commanded by his own superior (i.e god) to sacrifice his son, and thereby to provide some justification – however threadbare – for his Idomeneo’s cowardice (fear of death by) and rashness (ill-considered vow to save his skin)? Try as I might, and maybe its the feminist in me standing in the way of literary suspension of disbelief, I just can’t see a way to redeem either interpretation. Better to stay with the Star wars take.
    I hope I am not giving offense in attempting to parse out this plot in the context of the interpretations offered…. If I have done so I ask forgiveness in advance, because such was not at all my intent.


    1. inkbrain, thank you for your perspective and adding drive to the conversation! (sorry for the halt, I was out of town for a few days). All takes on this are welcome and as my favorite old teacher always said, an interpretation cannot be wrong (and also, there will never be THE interpretation).
      I definitely agree on the Abraham angle, I think that prompted the original French play, and previous opera versions (Campra 1712, most notably). Of course when Mozart tackles it, there is so much empfindsamkeit in it already (I think that also accounts for a bit of Idamante’s heightened sensitivity) and of course he actually protests the patrilinear conventions of the form, at least to a certain degree. And to me, this production, even if in stark images, does the same – screw the line, just live if you can!

      I saw Idamante as possibly breaking with tradition and deciding “this will be be my child, and I don’t care about their genealogy”! (then again, on a personal emotional level I did not like the discarded Ilia at the end). That last image might also be interpreted as “see, this is life, and it needs to be treasured”. In the same vein, I would want to read Idamante thinking about Ilia as “I love this woman for who she is, and with whom she slept or was forced to sleep with beforehand will not lessen my love for her because I don’t think of her in questions of lineage and property.”
      I agree with Ilia being – which I find an interesting idea – a lot more hardened in this production and digging in her heels in a space beyond clear morals.

      I am not sure Mozart tried to portray noble patrilinear succession in writing Idamante’s (common) devotion to this father, I think the tone of the time was trying to establish a new perspective of an emotional bond, but of course the old patterns never die from one day to another.

      In the Campra, by the way, there is a Idamante – Ilia/Ilione – Idomeneo love triangle and Idomeneo kills Idamante in the end after all (accidentally and while mad, but still, the outcome is the same) compared to that, the Mozart is a big step towards an enlightenment father model already.


    1. Sorry about the late reply, Dr. Dog – I was out conferencing for a few days.
      Commercially available DVDs of Idomeneo with a mezzo Idamante are, as far as I can see, only three:

      The Salzburg 2006: Magdalena Kozena as Idamante (horrible carrot wig, but good singing, acting sometimes a little off, but touching) with the added bonus of Anja Harteros as Elettra (third aria included, so yay!). The staging is a little stilted and bloodless at times (Ursel & Karl-Ernst Hermann directed), the setting is abstract/modern (if that matters to you), but it is probably overall the best package, musically and scenically.
      There is not THE Idomeneo out there for me, all are compromises in some way.

      Disclosure: I’ve not see the Pier Luigi Pizzi staging for San Carlo fully, he’s not called Mr. Drape Your Cape Folds for nothing. It’s culinary and stylized and perid-style, to me not that moving, but it’s got Sonia Ganassi (Idamante) and Angeles Blancas Gulin (cue heart eyes) and Iano Tamar, though they all have convinced me more in other performances. The Dynamic productions are often a little off, for me. http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=103229

      And then there is the early 80s Ponnelle staging for he MET, so it has the biggest period costumes EVER, and it is detailed and meticulous.but also somewhat pompous. There’s Pavarotti as Idomeneo, which is a bit of an acquired taste, but von Stade (Idamante) and Cotrubas (Ilia) are wonderful and create the same “awww” effect as a pair of Golden Retriever puppies would, that’s how adorable they are.

      At least of 1) and 3) there are clips on YT for an impression; and then of course there are the two productions that are available via Youtube (at the moment, the only searchable full ones with a mezzo Idamante).


  2. Maybe someday the ‘right’ idamante will come along!
    Perhaps not all operas can aspire to a timeless relevance, and some, like this, need to be salvaged with a little interpretive help. Plots don’t necessarily need to make sense, but it is a pity if in addition to that an interpretation falls short. If Idamante finally had the guts to break with tradition, he should, as you imply, have been nicer to Ilia shouldn’t he?
    Thank you for your kindness in letting me kick this plot back and forth with you.


    1. I admit I keep struggling with that very end here, but it is a personal thing. The concept, to me, works (trying to break free, but the structures we come from keep shaiping us? Or perhaps it is that life as a sheer force trumps all?), but I have emotional issues with discarded Ilia in the end.

      Sometimes, things that hurt me or that I instinctively dislike are still so very good, though (not necessarily thinking of this production, but of Konwitschny’s “Rosenkavalier”, which, as someone who is bound to the opera as an important formative influence, I disliked a lot on an emotional level in some scenes, initially, because it rattled my complacent cage. It was hard to watch, but I came to admire and respect it a lot since it spoke truth).


  3. Yes, you are assuredly right to do so when you love a difficult work because it speaks the truth, and I agree that a well-expressed truth is a doubly precious treasure. It is so very true that the experiences which shape us can encase us in a shell – or a prison that we can never break out of. But what if that truth is so obvious, so unquestioned and so widely-known that it doesn’t bear repeating? Perhaps then we should treat it as an artifact of a time gone by, at least here in Western countries, and let it go at that. I have to admit that after I got all my pent-up feelings about Idamante out of my head I don’t feel quite as vehement about him as I did before.
    Your precocious realization that Idamante stood for a gay metaphor struck a nerve in me. This is why I wanted him to fight back, or at least stand up for himself. I bitterly mourn the fact that our lesbian forebears were not able to leave us an unequivocal, overt legacy and inheritance. Their times simply did not permit it, and so we are left with bits and pieces, riddles and puzzles and cryptic revelations that we have to piece together and sort out ourselves. It is my feeling that we should never accept the kind of culture that oppresses and diminishes us, and thanks to ourselves that we fought back.
    I wanted Idamante to have at least a little resentment or irony or cynicism or something that would have shown that he did not completely collude in his own victimisation. After all this discussion I can now perhaps see that he may have been buying time until he was able to slip the noose, by appeasing Idomeneo in a Stockholm Syndrome kind of way.
    I was trying to think of an opera which spoke the truth, but such an useless and obvious and banal truth that it was a waste of time telling it, when another craven operatic heroine came to mind – Judith – in Béla Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”. We all know that there are women who choose to love and submit themselves to men who take away their spirit and and very lives. What is the point in reiterating that dismal ‘truth’. But I get your point. Even if the unsubtle kernel of ‘truth’ is that patriarchal systems break, warp and diminish its victims, perhaps there might still be a benefit to discussing these dark subjects in the light of day.
    So, do you still struggle with the abandonment of the Marschallin? That does seem to be a bitter-sweet ending (which you personally seem to have a taste for!) But I like to think that she may have been too wise and too evolved for Octavian, and having experienced what he had to offer was able to leave it behind, not as a loss, but as something that had served its purpose. To me that ending showed a grace that won over what might have been a tragedy. Not that it doesn’t bring a tear to the eye, but perhaps that tear might also have come because of that exquisite Fassbaender/Popp rendering of ‘Ist ein Traum’.


    1. The issue to me was never the abandonment of the Marschallin, but even as I have moved well past the age Hofmannsthal named for the role, I have kept an irrational fondness for the story.
      Konwitschny’s take was hard way back then in the early 2000s because he made a point of showcasing the final trio as a showstopper, and showed the loneliness of each of the characters underneath – a take with which I can perfectly agree, but it was not very dreamy to watch, of course. It stayed with me ove rhte years, though, as good stagings tend to to. Not everything in that evening worked; I was doubtful about staging Octavian as a woman and the Marschallin as a closet case in a difficult time. The third act of Ochs being confronted wiht modern technilogy while embodying a way of life removed from time was a bit bumpy. And it was moving, but perhaps not very Straussian to have the Marschallin commit suicide with sleeping pills at the end of Act One (a stand on society’s treatment of women growing older) and appear only as a vision at the end, to act as dea ex machina. And the the trio: a detached showpiece in all its luring glory, uncovered under very harsh stage lights. Definitely a night to remember!


  4. i got here while searching for “Gaëlle Arquez 6-pack knight suit”.
    but some of the figures might need some updates? (I can see them in google search but not here.. it’s ok, i’ll imagining, while reading the post..)


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