Friday, February 27, 2009

Opera Review - Idomeneo, Hannover Staatsoper

I've been meaning to write this review since we went to see the opera, but life kind of got in the way...

For Valentine's Day my husband surprised me with tickets to see Mozart's first successful opera, Idomeneo at the Hannover Staatsoper (State Opera House). I'd never seen it and didn't know much of the music, just the odd soprano aria or two, so I was excited!

As we approached the opera house we passed Littfaßsäule (one of those wide pillars onto which they paste posters of current and future events) with a poster for the opera. We looked at each other in horror. Oh no, it's a modern production. Just so you know, neither of us is a fan of modern productions, which is to say modern costumes, modern sets etc. I love costume dramas (movies) and Early Music, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I don't like them. That said, if I ever saw one that was really well done, then I'm sure I would like it, but I never have, sad to say. In this country, they love minimalism and nudity on stage (even if it has nothing to do with what's going on on stage) and as far as I'm concerned, if you are going to do an opera from the ranks of the standard repertoire with modern production elements, then certain other aspects (the singing, the acting) MUST be top-notch. And unfortunately, this is rarely the case. But before I get ahead of myself let me just say this: We were not excited by the prospect of Idomeneo set in the modern world.

Magnus had gotten us really excellent seats, 2nd balcony, first row, towards the middle so we had a great, head-on view and good sound.

The curtain went up and the entire stage was WHITE, with a huge white block (about 12 - 15 feet (4 - 5m)high, 6 (2m) feet wide and 25 - 30 feet (6-8m) long. HUGE. This block was mounted on a mechanical turntable and it slowly spun around. It did this throughout the entire opera. The costumes were completely in white and all the singers had blond hair (or wigs) and white (real or painted) skin. So, monotone is the only and quite accurate word to describe it. Later, when Idomeneo appears bloodied after a harrowing sea voyage, there's lots of red "blood" that gets distributed. Pointless, but a welcome relief from all the white. The stage director (Philipp Himmelmann)also did nothing to help the audience understand the mistaken intentions and intrigues of the story. The characters often sing duets, but aren't actually singing to each other, in fact, if it had been a movie they probably would have used a split screen to indicate that the people aren't actually in each other's presence. But here, the singers acted as though they were singing to each other, touching one another and gesturing: "Why doesn't he realize I love him!" "She spurns my passion - how shall I live?1?". Um, sorry, but I think the stage director completely missed the point.

So, on to the actual singing. The singers, for the most part, were fine. I was pleased to see that my favorite singer from Carmen (Arantxa Armentia) was playing Electra. Unfortunately, she was overly dramatic (which given that her character is the most dramatic one, is reason to forgive her that) and she over-sang the entire time, occasionally to the point of ugliness. Strangely, she was the one who over-sang the least in Carmen, which was my biggest criticism of that opera. Why would she do so in a Mozart opera?!? The other female singers, as I said were fine, especially Ania Wegrzyn, who sang Ilia. She has a fine lyrical voice with lots of understated power. Barbara Senator (Idamante) was a bit weak, especially in comparison to Wegrzyn, but the quality of her voice was pleasant. My biggest gripe: You couldn't understand a word any of them were singing. The vowels were much too dark, (which is a-typical of Italian) with little differentiation.

Tomasz Zagorski, who sang the title role of Idomeneo, was magnificent, however. Nuanced and lyrical, with subtle emotional qualities able to express themselves. AND you could understand his Italian. A fine belcanto-style voice. He deserved much more of an ovation than he received. I'll keep my eye out for future roles he sings.

The orchestra, as usual, was solid and enjoyable. The musicians were occasionally more entertaining than the opera itself.

Besides Zagorski, the choir was a highlight of the evening. They were omnipresent, for which I pitied them (I know what it's like to be required on stage even when you have nothing to do). But they have a wonderful ensemble quality with some fine voices doing the bit solos.

Let's see. Maybe the 3rd opera we see in Hannover will be the charm? At least this one was a definite improvement on Carmen.


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