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CD Feature/ Peter Maag: "Mozart - Idomeneo"

img  Tobias

„Idomeneo" has always been something of an odd duck: Caught between the - at the time -traditional form of the Opera Seria and new and even romantic horizons as well as between meditative recitatives and powerful choral passages, it all but diappeared from the stages of concert halls until the 1960s and 70s.

It didn’t help either that the story, based on ancient greek mythology, is unlikely to say the least: Victorious King Idomeneo of Crete is rescued from a sea storm by the rescuing hand of Neptun and for the price of promising to kill the first person he’ll meet upon returning home. Washed upon the shores of the beach, bad luck has it that this is his son Idamante. A lot of confusion follows, as well as a “battle of the ladies” (Trojan captive Illia and Princess Elettra fight over Idamante’s affection) and the defeat of a sea monster (did we mention the word “unlikely”?). In the end, a compromise saves the day: Idamante and Illia are named king and queen, Idomeneo steps down and Neptun is appeased. More than anything, the story sounds like some bizarre and trashy b-movie plot. This recording by conductor Peter Maag stems from a time, when artists where discovering that underneath the rubble, there was also a lot of beauty to be found.

Maybe they should have simply trusted the composer: Mozart has always maintained that “Ideomeno” was one of the finest works he’d ever written. Which will remain a question of taste. But for what it’s worth, the combination of an eclectic stylistic approach, an incredible narrative and musical flow and some stupendous arias make for an opera which works both as a collection of catchy and moving tunes as well as a complex and convoluted entity. What makes it so endearing to contenporary ears is its direct emotionality and drama – in the end, it is not some far-fetched fairy-tale but an action-packed story of requited and unrequited love.

Taped in 1965, this performance has stood the test of time remarkably well – maybe because the material was still fresh back then and unpolluted by the plentitude of renditions which have followed. It was also void of stardom. While the beautifully depressed “Padre, germani, addio” has become something of a “must” in the repertoire of every aspiring Soprano (Anna Netrebko featured it on her debut disc) and quite a lot of the other arias have become firm recital-favourites, Maag’s vision was not based on overpowering solo-voices, but the slender melodies and equinoctial harmonies. In fact, it is the equality of the cast and the seemless melting of their timbres and the orchestral palette which makes this double-CD so appealing. The only time that a singer truly blows you away on the merits of his performance is when bass David Ward (as the High Priest of Neptune) duets with Georg Jelden (Idamante) on the longing “Accogli, o re del mar”. But apart from that, the story unfolds on its own accord, like a colourful and hypnotic music box.

Perfectly remastered, the opera now sounds pleasantly warm in the arias, transparent in the recitatives and transcendentally arousing in the mighty “coros”. Which doesn’t take away that the work remains just slightly odd in its juxtaposition of contrating elements. But if you’re going to compare it to an animal, maybe a proud ostrich would be a better choice than a quacking duck.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Arts Music

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