|Opera by W. A. Mozart|
Front page of the 1781 playbill
|Premiere||29 January 1781
Cuvilliés Theatre, Munich
Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante (Italian for Idomeneus, King of Crete, or, Ilia and Idamante; usually referred to simply as Idomeneo, K. 366) is an Italian language opera seria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was adapted by Giambattista Varesco from a French text by Antoine Danchet, which had been set to music by André Campra as Idoménée in 1712. Mozart and Varesco were commissioned in 1780 by Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria for a court carnival. He probably chose the subject, though it might have been Mozart. The work premiered on 29 January 1781 at the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, Germany.
The libretto clearly draws inspiration from Metastasio in its overall layout, the type of character development, and the highly poetic language used in the various numbers and the secco and stromentato recitatives. The style of the choruses, marches, and ballets is very French, and the shipwreck scene towards the end of act I is almost identical to the structure and dramatic working-out of a similar scene in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride. The sacrifice and oracle scenes are similar to Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide and Alceste.
Kurt Kramer has suggested that Varesco was familiar with Calzabigi and therefore the work of Gluck, especially the latter's Alceste; much of what we see in Varesco's most dramatic passages is the latest French style, mediated by Calzabigi.
However, the libretto also strongly illustrates Mozart's tendency to shape the text himself, a tendency he showed for much of his career (see, e.g. The Abduction from the Seraglio). In the case of Idomeneo, the particular arrangements for working with his librettist left a record of what happened: Veresco was in Salzburg, Mozart in Munich, and Mozart corresponded with his father Leopold, who in turn dealt in person with Varesco. Spaethling writes:
[ In the letters ] Mozart reveals himself not only as the consummate musician, ... but also as a practical, hand-on dramatist, better acquainted with the possibilities and imitations of the stage than his Salzburg librettist. Over and over, Mozart requested shortening of texts and tightening of scenes. What Varesco had written was an old-fashioned opera seria with drawn-out recitatives and bravura arias; what Mozart wanted was dynamic music drama. Instead of virtuoso exit arias, in which all action comes to a halt, he wanted a continuous flow of movement. Mozart never fully succeeded in overcoming the static and reflective nature of the piece, but he worked hard to bring new dimension and dynamics into the old baroque genre.
In the final libretto, the mixture of French styles (apart from a few choruses) moves away from Gluck and France and returns to its more Italian (opera seria) roots; the singers were all trained in the classical Italian style, after all, and the recitatives are all classically Italian.
It was first performed at the Cuvilliés Theatre of the Munich Residenz on 29 January 1781, under the musical direction of its 25-year-old composer. The opera apparently owed much of its success at its first performance to the set designs: a notice in the Munich press did not mention Mozart by name but said (translation): "The author, composer and translator are all natives of Salzburg; the decors, among which the view of the port and Neptune's temple were outstanding, were masterpieces by our renowned theatre designer, court Councillor Lorenzo Quaglio, and everyone admired them tremendously." Idomeneo was Mozart's first mature opera. With it he demonstrated a mastery of orchestral color, accompanied recitatives, and melodic line. Mozart fought with the librettist, the court chaplain Varesco, making large cuts and changes, even down to specific words and vowels disliked by the singers (too many "i"s in "rinvigorir", which in Italian is pronounced as in bee). Idomeneo was performed three times in Munich. Later in 1781 Mozart considered (but did not put into effect) revisions that would have brought the work closer into line with Gluck's style; this would have meant a bass Idomeneo and a tenor Idamante.
A concert performance was given in 1786 at the Palais Auersperg in Vienna. For this, Mozart wrote some new music, made some cuts, and changed Idamante from a castrato to a tenor.
The British premiere was given by the amateur Glasgow Grand Opera Society in 1934. The first performance in the United States was produced by Boris Goldovsky at the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood during the summer of 1947.
Today Idomeneo is part of the standard operatic repertoire. There are several recordings of it (see below), and it is regularly performed.
Richard Strauss version
The approach of the 150th anniversary of Idomeneo's premiere placed some major European opera houses in a quandary: commemorative performances of so magnificent and historically important a score seemed obligatory, but, at the same time, how dared they mount an opera that 1930/31 audiences were bound to reject as hopelessly unstageworthy? The solution hit on in Munich and Vienna was to have Idomeneo adapted for modern tastes, but to show due reverence to Mozart's genius by entrusting the adaptations to famous twentieth-century opera composers with impeccable credentials as Mozarteans. Thus Munich commissioned an Idomeneo revision from Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, performed in 1931, and the same year the Vienna State Opera presented a distinctively interventionist version of the score by Richard Strauss.
For his adaptation of Idomeneo, Strauss employed a German libretto by Lothar Wallerstein that was partially a translation of the original Italian libretto, but with some changes to reflect the rearranging of the music. Strauss replaced about 1/3 of Mozart's score with some of his own music (even introducing the "Fall of Troy" motif from his own 1928 opera Die ägyptische Helena), and rearranged much of the music left behind. For example, Ilia's opening aria "Padre, germani, addio!" is mostly intact with a few changes to the long introductory recitative, but when Idamante (specifically written to be sung by a tenor in this version) enters, he sings Mozart's "Non temer amato bene", K. 490, (which was added to Mozart's original revision of Idomeneo) instead of "Non ho colpa". A few major changes to the plot were made as well, such as changing princess Elettra to priestess Ismene. Critics have noted that Strauss's additions contain an interesting blend of the classical style of composition and Strauss's own characteristic sound. In 1984, New York's Mostly Mozart Festival presented Strauss's version with Jerry Hadley in the title role, Delores Ziegler as Idamante, and Alessandra Marc as Ismene.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 29 January 1781
(Conductor: W. A. Mozart)
|Ilia, daughter of King Priam of Troy||soprano||Dorothea Wendling|
|Idomeneo (Idomeneus), King of Crete||tenor||Anton Raaff|
|Idamante (Idamantes), son of Idomeneo||soprano castrato, later rewritten as tenor||Vincenzo dal Prato|
|Elettra (Electra), Princess of Argos||soprano||Elisabeth Wendling|
|Arbace (Arbaces), Idomeneo's confidant||tenor||Domenico de' Panzacchi|
|High priest of Neptune||tenor||Giovanni Valesi|
|The voice of the Oracle of Neptune||bass|
|Two Cretan women||soprano and mezzo-soprano|
|Two Trojans||tenor and bass|
The instrumentation is:
- Woodwinds: 2 flutes, piccolo (only in the storm of act 2), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat, and B), 2 bassoons. B clarinets (an instrument that is now obsolete) are used in No. 15 (p. 283ff in NMA) and No. 19 (p. 352ff).
- Brass: 4 horns (in D, in C, in B-flat (alto)/in B (hoch), in G), 2 trumpets in D, 3 trombones (only accompanying the off-stage voice of Neptune in act 3)
- Percussion: timpani in D and in A
- Basso continuo in recitatives of harpsichord and violoncello (period performance practice often uses a fortepiano only)
The overture, in D major and common time, is in a modified sonata form in which the development is but a very short transition section connecting the exposition with the recapitulation. Other conventional hallmarks of the sonata form are apparent: the exposition modulates from the tonic (D major) to the dominant (A major), while the recapitulation is centred on the tonic. The overture concludes with a coda ending in D major chords. These chords, soft and tentative, turn out not to be a resolution of the overture in the tonic but chords in the dominant of G minor, which is the home key of the scene that immediately follows.
Island of Crete, shortly after the Trojan War. Ilia, daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam, was taken to Crete after the war. She loves Prince Idamante, son of Idomeneo, but she hesitates to acknowledge her love. Idamante frees the Trojan prisoners in a gesture of good will. He tells Ilia, who is rejecting his love, that it is not his fault that their fathers were enemies. Trojans and Cretans together welcome the return of peace, but Electra, daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon, is jealous of Ilia and does not approve of Idamante's clemency toward the enemy prisoners. Arbace, the king's confidant, brings news that Idomeneo has been lost at sea while returning to Crete from Troy. Electra, fearing that Ilia, a Trojan, soon will be Queen of Crete, feels the furies of Hades tormenting her.
Idomeneo is saved by Neptune (god of the sea) and is washed up on a Cretan beach. There he recalls the vow he made to Neptune: to sacrifice, if he should arrive safely on land, the first living creature he should meet. Idamante approaches him, but because the two have not seen each other for a long time, recognition is difficult. When Idomeneo finally realizes the youth that he must sacrifice for the sake of his vow is his own child, he orders Idamante never to seek him out again. Grief-stricken by his father's rejection, Idamante runs off. Cretan troops disembarking from Idomeneo's ship are met by their wives, and all praise Neptune.
At the king's palace, Idomeneo seeks counsel from Arbace, who says another victim could be sacrificed if Idamante were sent into exile. Idomeneo orders his son to escort Electra to her home, Argos. Idomeneo's kind words to Ilia move her to declare that since she has lost everything, he will be her father and Crete her country. As she leaves, Idomeneo realizes that sending Idamante into exile has cost Ilia her happiness as well as his own. Electra welcomes the idea of going to Argos with Idamante.
At the port of Sidon (a fictional city of Crete), Idomeneo bids his son farewell and urges him to learn the art of ruling while he is away. Before the ship can sail, however, a storm breaks out, and a sea serpent appears. Recognizing it as a messenger from Neptune, the king offers himself as atonement for having violated his vow to the god.
In the royal garden, Ilia asks the breezes to carry her love to Idamante, who appears, explaining that he must go to fight the serpent. When he says he would rather die than suffer the torments of his rejected love, Ilia confesses her love. They are surprised by Electra and Idomeneo. When Idamante asks his father why he sends him away, Idomeneo can only reply that the youth must leave. Ilia asks for consolation from Electra, who is preoccupied with revenge. Arbace comes with news that the people, led by the High Priest of Neptune, are clamoring for Idomeneo. The High Priest tells the king of the destruction caused by Neptune's monster, urging Idomeneo to reveal the name of the person whose sacrifice is demanded by the god. When the king confesses that his own son is the victim, the populace is horrified.
Outside the temple, the king and High Priest join Neptune's priests in prayer that the god may be appeased. Arbace brings news that Idamante has killed the monster. As Idomeneo fears new reprisals from Neptune, Idamante enters in sacrificial robes, saying he understands his father's torment and is ready to die. After an agonizing farewell, Idomeneo is about to sacrifice his son when Ilia intervenes, offering her own life instead. The Voice of Neptune is heard. Idomeneo must yield the throne to Ilia and Idamante. Everyone is relieved except Electra, who longs for her own death. Idomeneo presents Idamante and his bride as the new rulers. The people call upon the god of love and marriage to bless the royal pair and bring peace.
- "Padre, germani, addio" ("Father, brothers, farewell"), Ilia
- "Non ho colpa" ("I am not guilty"), Idamantes
- "Tutte nel cor vi sento furie del cupo averno" ("I can feel you all in my heart, furies of the dark hell"), Electra
- "Vedrommi intorno" ("I shall see around me"), Idomeneo
- "Il padre adorato" ("My beloved father"), Idamantes
- "Se il tuo duol" ("If your pain"), Arbaces
- "Se il padre perdei" ("If I lost my father"), Ilia
- "Fuor del mar" ("Outside the sea"), Idomeneo
- "Idol mio" ("My sweetheart"), Electra
- "Zeffiretti lusinghieri" ("Pleasant Zephyrus"), Ilia
- "Se colá ne' fati è scritto" ("If it is written in the destiny"), Arbaces
- "No, la morte io non pavento" ("No, I am not afraid of dying", Idamantes
- "D'Oreste, d'Ajace ho in seno i tormenti" ("I feel Orestes's and Ajax's torments in my heart"), Electra
- "Torna la pace" ("Peace comes again"), Idomeneo
- James Levine (1982). Deutsche Grammophon. Starring: Luciano Pavarotti, Frederica von Stade, Ileana Cotrubaș, Hildegard Behrens and John Alexander. This was the Metropolitan Opera's first production of the work.
- Bernard Haitink (1983). NVC Arts. Staged by Trevor Nunn. Starring: Philip Langridge, Jerry Hadley (singing the tenor version of Idamante), Yvonne Kenny, Carol Vaness. Filmed in Glyndebourne, studio condition.
- Marco Guidarini (2004). Dynamic. Staged by Pier Luigi Pizzi. Starring: Kurt Streit; Sonia Ganassi; Angeles Blancas Gulin; Iano Tamar; Jörg Schneider; Dario Magnabosco; Deyan Vatchkov; Antonietta Bellon; Lucia Gaeta; Carmine Durante, Carmine Mennella. Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro di San Carlo, Naples.
- Daniel Harding (2005). RAI Trade. Camilla Tilling, Emma Bell, Monica Bacelli, Steve Davislim, Francesco Meli. Staged by Luc Bondy. Live from La Scala.
- Sir Roger Norrington (2006). Decca. Part of the M22 Project from the Salzburg Festival. Staged by Ursel and Karl-Ernt Herrmann at House for Mozart. Starring: Ramón Vargas, Magdalena Kožená, Anja Harteros, Ekaterina Siurina, Jeffrey Francis.
- Kent Nagano (2008). Medici Arts. Staged by Dieter Dorn. Starring: John Mark Ainsley, Pavol Breslik (singing the tenor version of Idamante), Juliane Banse, Annette Dasch, Rainer Trost, Guy de Mey, Steven Humes. Live from the Bavarian State Opera.
- Nikolaus Harnoncourt (2009). styriarte Festival Edition. Staged by Nikolaus and Philipp Harnoncourt. Starring: Saimir Pirgu; Julia Kleiter; Marie-Claude Chappuis; Eva Mei; Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Concentus Musicus Wien. Includes all original ballet scenes.
In popular culture
- Italian pronunciation: [idomenˈeo]
- David Cairns, Mozart and his Operas, 2006, p. 36. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-22898-6
- Kurt Kramer, "Antike und christliches Mittelalter in Varescos Idomeneo, dem Libretto zu Mozarts gleichnamiger Oper" in Mitteilungen der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum, xxviii/1–2 (1980), 6.20
- Spaethling (2005:208); this work also describes the working arrangements and provides in translation the text of the letters on which Spaethling's comments are based. Robert Spaethling (2005) Mozart's letters, Mozart's life. New York: Norton.
- Heartz, Daniel (1995). Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School: 1740–1780. W.W. Norton. p. 708. ISBN 978-0393037128.
- Cairns, p. 45
- Goldovsky, Boris, My Road to Opera, Houghton Mifflin, 1979
- "Music: Strauss's Setting of Mozart's Idomeneo", The New York Times
- Rushton, Julian (1993). W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo (Cambridge Opera Handbooks). Cambridge University Press. pp. 5–8. ISBN 9780521437417.
- Source of recordings: operadis-opera-discography.org.uk Retrieved 21 February 2013
- Leon, Donna (1993). Death in a Strange Country. New York: Penguin/Grove Press.
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