Lyric Opera of Chicago presents a new-to-Chicago production of Mozart's Idomeneo

Even if you are a king and think that you are omnipotent and can control everything and everyone, you are wrong. There are powers that are stronger than kings. In Mozart's opera "Idomeneo," god of the sea Neptune gets control over a hero of the Trojan War, King Idomeneo of Crete. However, there is another power, which is greater than gods and kings. It captures human hearts, both in ancient Greek stories and in real life. The name of this power is love. This is the main idea of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo," and Lyric Opera of Chicago is proud to present the new-to-Chicago production of it. Three more performances of "Idomeneo" will take place at 7 p.m. on October 24, at 2 p.m. on October 28, and at 7 p.m. on November 2.

"A number of great operas are seen comparatively rarely at Lyric, for the simple reason that assembling the right cast, production, and conductor is a daunting challenge," wrote Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera's General Director, President and CEO, in the Lyric Notes for this production. "Mozart's 'Idomeneo' is a good example, heard here in only two previous seasons. I'm thrilled that this astounding work is returning to our stage for the first time in more than twenty years."

This new-to-Chicago production of "Idomeneo" was originally directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and premiered at The Metropolitan Opera on October 14, 1982. The production is owned by The Metropolitan Opera and all the scenery, properties, and costumes were constructed by The Metropolitan Opera Shops. "Very much in keeping with the spirit of the work, Ponnelle constructed a riveting visual fusion of the ancient world and the world of the Enlightenment. It provides a perfect frame for communicating this work's cumulative musical and dramatic power," noted Freud.

Although this production runs for more than three and a half hours with two intermissions, it is easy to watch it in one breath because of its intriguing plot, full of dramatic and even tragic scenes. The events take place in ancient Crete after the Trojan War. The opera tells a story of the King of Crete, Idomeneo, whose fleet got caught in the storm while it was returning from Troy. Idomeneo could have died in that storm but Neptune, god of the sea, saved him with one condition - Idomeneo had to sacrifice, or kill, the first person he saw upon his return. Unfortunately, that person was Idomeneo's own son, Idamante. Of course, the father tried to escape such a tragedy.

Meanwhile Ilia, a Trojan prisoner of war, was taken to Crete where she fell in love with Idamante but was hesitant to admit it. He fell in love with her too, freed the Trojan prisoners, but princess Elettra of Argos also had feelings for Idamante and was jealous of Ilia. To avoid Idamante's death, Idomeneo told him to escort Elettra to Argos. Before the ship could sail, a storm broke out and a sea monster appeared being a sign from Neptune who requested a sacrifice from Idomeneo. Idamante fought the monster and was ready to die, but finally Ilia admitted her love for Idamante who heroically killed the monster.

Idomeneo, who was sure that Neptune would want even more revenge now, was about to kill his own son, but Ilia stepped forward and offered her own life instead. Her love, devotion and readiness to sacrifice herself for Idamante softened Neptune's heart. His voice proclaimed the triumph of love and ordered Idomeneo to abdicate and Idamante to rule, with Ilia as the queen. The only person who was unhappy was Elettra who chose death instead of life without love. Idomeneo declared peace, Idamante and his bride became the new rulers, and the people of Crete joined in a hymn to Hymen, the god of marriage.

Needless to say, the main reason to attend this opera is to hear Mozart's heavenly music. It seems like Mozart's genius could have turned any plot into a timeless opera. The libretto is in Italian and was written by Giambattista Varesco who based it on a French text by Antoine Danchet. In 1780 Mozart and Varesco were commissioned by the Elector of Bavaria to write an opera for a court carnival, and Mozart contributed a lot to creating its dramaturgy. The composer was only 25 years old when the opera premiered on January 29, 1781 at the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, Germany. "Idomeneo" was his first mature opera and it was a success.

Mozart wrote "Idomeneo" in a style called opera seria, which refers to the noble and 'serious' style of Italian opera that dominated Europe from 1710 to 1770. "Idomeneo" has traditional recitatives and arias, although the composer gave this opera new traits and forms while demonstrating a unique mastery of elegant orchestral color and melodic lines. The opera is also known for fabulous choral parts. Sung in Italian with projected English translations, this three-act opera starts with an elegant instrumental overture followed by a series of recitatives. Long and elaborative arias written in da capo form (which means 'repeat from the beginning') and frequently accompanied by harpsichord and cello, demonstrate the characters' emotions and feelings, and at the end the chorus presents an optimistic climax of the opera.

It is very important to underline the hard work that the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra put into this production. Under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis, the musicians demonstrate world-class mastery, elegance and extreme devotion to their profession. They spend hours and hours polishing every note and every little detail to make sure that audiences enjoy the beauty of Mozart's music in full. Music director Sir Andrew Davis, who is one of the most celebrated Mozartians in the world and who has triumphed in many Mozart operas at Lyric, conducts his very first "Idomeneo" this season. "This will be a major milestone in his illustrious career, as well as a huge treat for Lyric audiences," is underlined in Lyric Notes.

Lyric Opera is proud to present the superb cast in "Idomeneo." The main characters face substantial vocal challenges that they take gracefully. The title roles are presented by internationally celebrated singers who are known for their outstanding interpretation of Mozart roles. An Evanston native, tenor Matthew Polenzani, presents the title role of Idomeneo. This internationally known tenor is particularly celebrated for Mozart, bel canto, and French repertoire. His Idomeneo is strong, yet sincere with the whole spectrum of various emotions that Polenzani reflects using his superb vocal and acting skills. His unique timbre and brilliant vocal technique surprise with elegance and sublime execution in such arias as "Vedrommi intorno" (I shall see around me), "Fuor del mar" (Outside the sea), and "Torna la pace" (Peace comes again).

Soprano Janai Brugger, a Chicago native, presents her role of Ilia in a sincere and touching manner with softness in her motions and brilliance in her voice. This award-winning singer finds the best way to demonstrate all the vocal beauty and warmth of Ilia's long and touching arias, such as in "Padre, germani, addio!" (Father, brothers, farewell!) in Act 1, "Se il padre perdei" (Though I have lost my father) in Act 2, and "Zeffiretti lusinghieri" (Flattering breezes) in Act 3. Her beautiful voice and excellent technique enhance the attractiveness of her character, Ilia.

Another role that is very important in this opera is the role of Idamante performed by a rapidly rising star, American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower. It is her role and company debuts as Idamante, the noble-hearted son of the title character in Mozart's Idomeneo. During the age of opera seria there was "a rise to prominence of the castrati, often prodigiously gifted male singers who had undergone castration before puberty in order to retain a high, powerful soprano or alto." Our days, female singers perform these roles and Brower became the best fit for the role of Idamante. The arias "Non ho colpa" (I am not guilty), "Il padre adorato" (My beloved father), and "No, la morte io non pavento" (No, I am not afraid of dying) present Brower's unique vocal mastery and superb acting skills.

The character that adds charisma and tension into this opera is Elettra presented by Canadian-American soprano Erin Wall, a Ryan Opera Center alumna. Elettra goes through difficult emotions while presenting all the beauty and sincerity of her voice. Wall is especially convincing and elaborate while singing "D'Oreste, d'Ajace ho in seno i tormenti" (I feel Orestes's and Ajax's torments in my heart).

American tenor David Portillo presents the role of Arbace, who is the king's confidant. Being a Ryan Opera Center alumnus, Portillo is making his role debut in this production. This fast rising talent demonstrates his strong and vibrant voice in "Se il tuo duol" (If your pain) in Act 2 and in "Se colá ne' fati è scritto" (If it is written in the destiny) in Act 3. This production became also a debut for tenor Noah Baetge (High Priest), for bass-baritone David Weigel (Voice of Neptune), and for mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker (Second Cretan Woman).

"Idomeneo" is considered Mozart's greatest choral opera and gives the chorus a wide scope to demonstrate its vocal skills and talents. Challenged with demonstrating intense emotions, elaborative vocal lines and bright acting scenes, the Lyric's Chorus impresses with its power and energy, especially at the very end of the opera when the people of Crete sing "Scenda Amor, scenda Imeneo" (Descend love, descend god of marriage). Under the brilliant direction of Michael Black, the Chorus presents the optimistic climax of Mozart's "Idomeneo," the opera that should be on a must-see list of all the opera lovers of Chicago.

For information, please go to or call 312-827-5600

Natalia Dagenhart

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