While Mozart’s three comic operas (“opera buffa”) Don Giovanni, La Nozze de Figaro, and Cosi Fan Tutti may loom largest among his operatic legacy, his serious operas (“opera seria”) boast noteworthy drama and lush compositions, as exemplified by In Series’ moving, accessible production of Idomeneo.
Director Tom Mallan and his team have constructed a theatrical Trojan Horse, which conceals creative modern accents and surprising humor within Mozart’s original drama of sacrifice, disaster, and love across enemy lines.
Mozart set Idomeneo on the isle of Crete in a time immediately following the mythical Trojan War. Prince Idamante has been watching the throne while his father, the titular King Idomeneo, lays siege to Troy. In the process, Idamante has nurtured a spark of love with the captive Trojan Princess Ilia, much to the dismay of the jealous and tormented Electra, exiled Princess of Argos. Soon Idomeneo returns victorious, but his desperate pact with the gods threatens to spoil his triumphant homecoming with untold death and destruction.
To flesh out the mythical epic, Mallan and his team have employed their limited resources in a variety of creative ways. A permanent ramp and two large “tuning fork“ set pieces double as hazy dreamscapes, desolate flood plains, and even grand battlefields with the aid of A.J. Gruban’s lighting tricks. Gruban bathes the stage in a broad spectrum of hues that deftly shift the action between the material and metaphysical planes. He employs a particularly nice touch with his eerie lighting of a nightmare unfolding in slow motion behind a transparent scrim.
Heidi Kershaw and Alvaro Palau’s choreography contributes an intense mythical dimension to the proceedings. Their lithe, powerful movements fill the stage with visualizations of swirling wind and water, cryptic dreams, and demonic visitations. Kershaw and Palau are the true soul of the production, and without them, the cast would be left to simply stand and deliver their lyrics against a rather plain, albeit creatively lit, backdrop.
In the lead role of Idomeneo, tenor Richard Tappen puts forth a spirited yet uneven effort. While his sympathetic turn as a tormented ruler torn between family and country provides satisfying emotional heft, his vocals often fall short of the quality exhibited by his fellow performers. Tappen’s engaging, conversational vocals seem well suited to traditional musical theater, but here he often struggles under Mozart’s exacting technical demands.
As Princess Ilia, Randa Rouweyha headlines a roster of strong supporting voices with her chill-inducing soprano, which forms a pleasing blend with the warm tenor of Prince Idamante, played by Peter Burroughs. Jennifer Suess imbues Princess Electra with a crackling energy that slowly devolves into arresting madness. Among the supporting cast, Joseph Haughton wows with superior range and tonal precision as royal confidant Arbace, and ensemble member Ashley Dannewitz cuts through the layered choruses like a melodic knife through butter.
Idomeneo provides an evening of sweeping music and gut-wrenching emotion that explores a rarely visited corner of mythology. The production is generally well sung, and the action floats along briskly on a cloud of dreamy artistry and dashes of contemporary humor. Charlotte Stoudt’s breezy translation and the cast’s clear diction make this a very accessible production and a good starter opera for young theatergoers. Only the lead’s vocal struggles and incongruous performance style prevents the production from really taking flight. Anyone in the mood for a night of Greek drama with stirring music and inventive visuals should snap up tickets for the last two performances at the Atlas Theater this weekend.
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Translated and Adapted by Charlotte Stoudt
Original Italian Libretto by Giambattista Varesco
Directed by Tom Mallan
Music Director and Conductor Carlos Cesar Rodriguez
Choreography by Heidi Kershaw & Alvaro Palau
Produced by The In Series
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (15 minute intermission)