Idomeneo (Victorian Opera and Opera Australia) – opera review

Superb staging is a hallmark of Mozart’s dramatic opera Idomeneo, set on the island of Crete shortly after the Trojan War. Ilia, daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam, expresses conflicting emotions. She has love for her rescuer, Idamante, son of Cretan King Idomeneo, and hatred for her father’s Greek enemies, who killed both her dad and her brothers. In a gesture of goodwill, Idamante frees the Trojan prisoners, which isn’t welcomed by Elettra, daughter of Greek King Agamemnon.

Photos by Charlie Kinross

Then comes the shocking news that King Idomeneo has been lost during a storm at sea while he was returning to Crete from Troy. To save himself, Idomeneo has made a vow to Neptune, god of the sea, to sacrifice the first living creature he sees when safely back on land. That turns out to be his beloved son Idamante, who can’t understand why his father rejects him when he has gone searching for him.

Idomeneo’s confidante, Arbace, offers his advice on how to avoid carrying out the pledge to Neptune and Elettra shows more than a passing interest in Idamante. There is a great deal of raw emotion on show in Idomeneo and the performances are duly passionate. Love and death are compelling and conflicting themes that run through the opera. A collaboration between Victorian Opera and Opera Australia, Idomeneo features a moving score.

It is generally regarded as Mozart’s first mature work for the lyric stage, a reinterpretation of literary and dramatic traditions of ancient Greek drama. The librettist is Abbe Giambattista Varesco, who explores fate and destiny. A surfeit of arias handsomely “expose” the strengths of the leads, enabling them to excel in the process. I speak specifically of Steve Davislim as Idomeneo, Catherine Carby as Idamante and Kathryn Radcliffe, so torn as Ilia. Olivia Cranwell is an imposing force as Elettra and Michael Dimovski is well cast as Arbace.

The chorus, too, shines with Benjamin Bayl conducting the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. In fact, Idomeneo marks his Victorian Opera debut, alongside a triumphant director in Lindy Hume. Not being familiar with the work, in following the narrative I anticipated a particular ending, but was pleasantly blindsided. Michael Yeargan’ set, a large room with three doors, above which are architectural flourishes, present a perfect blank canvas for video designer David Bergman. From light skies and rocky ocean cliffs to turbulent seas and lush forest, Catherine Pettman’s cinematography is rich and redolent. She also brilliantly represents impending doom.

Idomeneo is an all-round artistic conquest, which quickly captured my attention, captivated me and held me tightly throughout. Sung in Italian with English surtitles (both above and below the stage), the two hour 45 minute production, plus interval, is on at Palais Theatre until 8th July, 2023.

Alex First

Other reviews you might enjoy: