Reviewed by James Karas
Welcome to the 2022 production of Mozart’s Idomeneo at the Aix-en-Provence Opera Festival in the south of France.
At the same time, welcome to Japan, 1945. That may seem seriously incongruous but if you think hard and give your imagination free range, you may find a connection. But first let’s check with the performance of Mozart’s opera.
It is the most exquisitely sung production I have ever seen or heard. These are the singers who go from recitative to aria to duet to trio etc. and keep you enraptured by their delivery of Mozart’s composition. Tenor Michael Spyres perched on a moveable stand like everyone else, sings a superb Idomeneo. He may not move but his vocal cords can and he sings beautifully and movingly. Mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus sings the pants role of Idamante, the son of Idomeneo who is supposed to be sacrificed to Neptune in return for saving Idomeneo. Again, a sustained and splendid performance.
The gorgeously voiced soprano Sabine Devieilhe sings the role of the “foreigner” Ilia. She is a Trojan princess, daughter of Priam, the defeated king of Troy. She is technically a prisoner of the Cretans and has every reason to hate them. On the contrary, she is deeply in love with Idamantes and comes to consider Idomeneo her second father. Dressed in a beautiful white gown and with a clarion voice she is a delight to watch and an aural feast to listen to.
Soprano Nicole Chevalier sings the role of the unfortunate Electra. She is on the run from the avenging Furies because she and her brother Orestes killed their mother Clytemnestra. The latter killed their father Agamemnon on his return from the Trojan War. Nice family. Chevalier delivers an outstanding performance and in the end her character who is also in love with Idamante is sent back to her hometown of Argos.
The Pygmalion Choir and the participating Choir of the Opera de Lyon deserve special credit for their extraordinary performances.
Conductor Raphael Pinchon conducted the Pygmalion Orchestra in a brilliant and luminous performance of Mozart’s glorious music.
Now for the staging and the production’s relationship with post-World War II Japan. The Director, Set Designer (Junpei Kiz), Costume Designer (Kayo Takahashi Deschene), Lighting Designer (Yukiko Yoshimoto) and Choreographer (Akiko Kitamura) are all Japanese.
Director Satoshi Miyagi must be credited or blamed for the overall design of the production. As indicated, he has the singers stand in one spot, usually on top of a movable stand. They are stationary almost all of the time with almost no interaction with other cast members.
The benefit is that they are not bothered with movements or anything else. They sing with superb phrasing, amazing control and unsurpassable beauty but that makes it almost a concert performance. For example, Ilia tells Idomeneo that she loves him like a father but they are several meters apart and they are not singing to each other. The story, the emotions and the exchanges are related to the audience not to each other.
The principal singers, except for Ilya wear a type of Japanese costume, white and grey with huge sleeves. The chorus is made up of Japanese soldiers who looked pretty menacing. Unfortunately, I have no positive image of Japanese military personnel and lining them up across the stage did not evoke sympathetic vibrations.
Idomeneo has a “happy” ending. Idomeneo is absolved of the promise to sacrifice his son to Neptune. He resigns his post and the new happy couple, Idamante and Ilia get to rule Crete. Electra loses her bid to marry Idamante and she loses it as she heads back to Argos and the Furies.
Miyagi is not interested in that because his agenda is to present the fate of Japan, the defeated nation that was militarily devasted and suffered the consequences of two atomic bombs dropped on two of its cities.
The horrors cannot be comprehended or overestimated whether we read descriptions, see photographs or watch videos of the destruction and suffering. Miyagi does not pull any punches and in the final scene a gauze is lifted across the stage and hands are pierced through them it is as if the victims, the dead, the mutilated, are complaining to civilization about their fate.
In Idomeneo, Crete is being devasted by a “monster” unleashed by Neptune because of the action of King Idomeneus. The Greek gods could be very capricious. The Japanese “monster” is the result of Japan’s Putinesque aggression against the United States because of the monsters who ran the country including Emperor Hirohito. The condemnation of the devastation of Crete and Japan rests on the actions of the leaders of those countries. You can blame the gods or the stupid, self-serving promise of Idomeneus for the fate of Crete. The Japanese had no one to blame but their leaders.
The audience applauded the singers, the chorus, and the orchestra with enthusiasm. Satoshi Miyagi received some applause but also a large dose of boos.
Idomeneo, Re di Creta by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opened on July 6 and will be performed seven times until July 22, 2022 at the Théâtre de l’Archevêché, Aix-en-Provence, France. www.festival-aix.com
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review apperas also in the newspaper