Sunday, February 25, 2024

IDOMENEO - Opera Australia and Victorian Opera

Michael Schade as Idomeneo 


Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Librettist: Abbe Giambattista Varesco

Conductor: Johannes Fritzsch – Director: Lindy Hume

Set Designer: Michael Yeargan – Set Design Consultant: Richard Roberts

Costume Designer: Anna Cordingley – Costume Design Consultant: Mel Sergeant

Lighting Designer: Verity Hampson – Video Designer: David Bergman

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House Feb.20th to March 15 2024.


Celeste Lazarenko (Ilia) - Michael Schade (Idomeneo) - Caitlin Hulcup (Idamante) and the Opera Australia chorus in "Idomeneo"

Having rashly promised the God, Neptune, that in appreciation for saving him from a storm at sea he would sacrifice the first living creature he met, Cretan King Idomeneo is horrified when he discovers that that person is his beloved son and heir, Idamante.

To complicate matters further, Idamante has his own problems. He’s in love with Ilia, the daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam. However, Elettra, the daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon, has her sights set on becoming Queen of Crete. To achieve her aims she must marry Idamante, and she’s not about let Ilia get in her way.

It’s a juicy story fit for its own television series, but Mozart got there first, and in 1781 chose it as the subject of his first serious opera, composing some of his most luscious music for it.

In 1979 the then Australian Opera premiered a production of Idomeneo at the Sydney Opera House conducted by Richard Bonynge with Dame Joan Sutherland in the role of Elettra. This production was hired from the Victorian State Opera.

In a neat twist, for her final production as Guest Creative Director of Opera Australia’s 2024 Sydney Summer season, Lindy Hume has chosen her own production of Idomeneo which she directed in a co-production for Victorian Opera and Opera Australia and which premiered in Melbourne in July 2023.  

In a stunning coup de theatre, Hume has utilised the same Michael Yeargan setting originally designed for a 1989 production of Massenet’s Werther, and re-purposed for Opera Australia’s current production of The Magic Flute.

For her production Hume has enhanced this elegant white setting with stunning video images filmed in Tasmania by Catherine Pettman brilliantly mixed with animated inkblot images digitally reworked, colour-enhanced, timed, mapped and synchronised to Mozart’s score by David Bergman. The resultant images form incredible visual representations of each character’s mood.

In addition, she’s added a stage revolve, a collection of stark white chairs, then taken advantage of the possibilities offered by the superb Opera Australia chorus, strikingly costumed in muted tones by Anna Cordingley, as well as Verity Hampson’s prodigious lighting skills, to create a succession of stunning stage pictures to keep the eyes engaged while the singers enchant the ears with superb vocals. 

Making his first Sydney Opera House appearances, Canadian-German tenor Michael Schade is a commanding figure in the central role of Idomeneo. Whether strutting the stage in a black rooster-feather trimmed cloak, or swathed in blood-red satin, his stentorian tenor negotiates the complexities of Mozart’s arias with apparent ease, evidenced early during his rendition of “Fuor del mar” (Out of the Sea) in which Idomeneo thanks Neptune for sparing his life. 

In the pants role, as Idomeneo’s son Idamante, Caitlin Hulcup is not only vocally and visually striking, but also successful in investing her characterisation with a touching depth, particularly when Idamante expresses his anguish at his father’s rejection in the aria “Il padre adorato” (My beloved father).  

Celeste Lazarenko as Ilia in "Idomeneo"

Celeste Lazarenko, as Ilia, the object of Idamante’s  affections, immediately impresses with her unenviable task of opening the show with a  superb rendition of a long aria, “Padre, germani, addio” (Father, brothers, farewell), while Emma Pearson literally dazzles as the fiery Elettra,  especially with her aria, “D’Oreste, d’Ajace” (I feel Orestes’s and Ajax’s torments in my heart”) in which she leaves no doubts to her feelings when Idomeneo anoints Idamante and Ilia as his successors.

Emma Pearson (Elettra) and the Opera Australia Chorus in "Idomeneo"

However it is in the sublime rendition of the “Death Quartet” when these four soloists blend voices with the Opera Australia orchestra under the baton of Maestro Johannes Fritzsch that the hairs on the back of the neck begin to rise.

John Longmuir (Arbace) and Michael Schade (Idomeneo)

And if that were not enough, both Kanen Breen as the High Priest, and John Longmuir as Idomeneo’s confidant offer striking, well-sung performances.

Lindy Hume’s Sydney Opera House Summer Season has been a triumph in demonstrating possible new directions and collaborations for Opera Australia. The forthcoming Sydney Winter season, the first curated by incoming Artistic Director, Jo Davies, is an enticing selection offering no fewer than three Australian operas.

Hopefully though, in its efforts to embrace a more parochial approach to its repertoire, Opera Australia will be careful not to risk jeopardising its hard won International reputation as the country’s flagship opera company.


                                                     Images by Keith Saunders

   This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.