Rattle conducts Mozart at the Berlin Lindenoper: Crete for connoisseurs

Leopold Mozart was worried: his son had landed a lucrative commission from the Munich Court Opera for the 1781 season – but why was the Filius so exaggerated in his willingness to experiment? Instead of writing a proper opera seria, i.e. a serious opera on ancient material according to all the rules of convention, he wants to use his score to give new impetus to a genre that is already quite exhausted artistically!

He should please consider the expectations of the aristocratic audience, Leopold writes admonishingly: “You know, there are 100 ignorant people against ten true connoisseurs – so don’t forget the so-called popular, which also tickles the long ears.” But the recalcitrant Herr Sohn thinks not at all – and with “Idomeneo” creates a masterpiece for connoisseurs and enthusiasts.

The plot goes like this: Idomeneo, the king of Crete, is in distress at sea, but is able to appease Neptune by promising to sacrifice him the first person he meets on the beach. It will be his own son Idamante. After three dramatic acts, however, love triumphs: that of Idamante for his father as well as that for the Trojan princess Ilia.

A masterpiece

Simon Rattle loves this opera, of course he put it on the program during his time with the Berlin Philharmonic, in December he will interpret it – as the new chief conductor of the BR Symphony Orchestra – at the premiere venue in Munich. At the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, he now celebrates and carves this music with the utmost dedication, wanting to make every harmonic detail, every surprising twist, every instrumental sophistication sparkle like a jewel – and thus extends the performance to almost four hours.

One is so used to the gruff sound of the early music special ensembles in Mozart’s operas, to their kind of over-articulated musical rhetoric, that the velvety sound of the Staatskapelle at the premiere is almost confusing. As beautiful as the woodwind solos shine above the soft string sound – everything here seems very smooth, noble, but, yes, a little too harmless.

Velvety orchestral sound

Rattle precisely works out the emotions that constantly shake the protagonists here, but they always remain well-tempered, restrained soul movements of high-ranking personalities. None, nobody really gets mad here, even when it comes to love and life.

This is matched by the extremely decorative staging: stage, costumes, light design, everything is presented with impeccable taste. The abstract stage is ocher in colour, a gigantic skull hovers above it, there is a lot of shadows and stage fog, plus lush flowing material, located half in antiquity, half in the Mozart era, spiced up with a dash of Japanese No-Theater.

Everything very tasteful

This is reminiscent of Wieland Wagner’s aesthetics of the 1960s and of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s tasteful scenes of the 1990s. What the Scottish director David McVicar, born in 1966, is now offering on Unter Den Linden is an opera look for everyone who is tired of the garish Eurotrash director’s theater – and willing to accept the occasional passage of cultivated boredom.

A 13-strong “Movement Group” is responsible for the scenic action, sometimes dancing, sometimes striding, swinging samurai swords in ritualized sequences of movements or sometimes with a trapeze interlude. The choir, rehearsed in a first-class manner by Martin Wright, walks at a measured pace, for the soloists a minimum of personal guidance must be sufficient.

A father and son in distress: Andrew Staples as Idomeneo and Magdalena Kozena as Idamante (right).
© Bernd Uhlig

The expressiveness of the singing is all the more important. Linard Vrielink succeeds in upgrading the supporting role of the king’s adviser Arbace enormously, because he wears his heart on his lips, because he also comes across as human when he dares pathos, when he sublimates the high tenor tones to a soul cry.

Magdalena Kozena, who sings the trouser role of Idamante, has a tremor in her voice. The sensitivity with which she listens to the emotional depth of the old-fashioned, cryptic verses is impressive and makes her character vocally believable.

The other soloists, on the other hand, remain surprisingly pale on this long evening. Anna Prohaska, always dazzlingly adventurous in her own projects, designs the Ilia obediently, only thinking about the beautiful sound. The otherwise flamboyant Olga Peretyatko also appears very princess-like as the jealous Elettra: her revenge arias tell of conventional furor.

And Andrew Staples in the title role? Delivers the coloratura confidently, designs his part with a sure Mozart sense of style, but remains a marionette in the game of life, unable to shape his figure into a character. A weak king, according to the libretto.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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