Idomeneo makes awkward deal with Greek god

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Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart's Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

If you have ever been caught in a storm while sailing or found yourself on a rough boat ride in Lake Michigan you can understand why Idomeneo is ready to bargain with Neptune in return for a safe harbor after being tempest tossed while returning from the Trojan War.

Neptune, willing to make a deal with Idomeneo says he will assure his safe arrival at shore but in return the hero must sacrifice the first person he sees.

Like many mythological Greek gods of yore Neptune seems to really enjoy some irony. As it turns out the first person Idomeneo spots is his very own son Idamante. Ah! The stuff great opera is made of.

This Lyric Opera of Chicago’s revival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Idomeneo with a stellar cast of singers and awesome orchestra led by Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, is indeed lyrical.

The title role of Idomeneo is beautifully performed by Evanston native, tenor Matthew Polenzani whose tormented character tries hard to shun his offspring, even banishing him, to avoid fulfilling his tragic duty.

The role of Idamante originally written for castrato then later rewritten by Mozart for tenor is sensitively portrayed here by mezzo-soprano Angela Brower doing a brilliant job in her Lyric debut with this demanding job.

She does not over-play her masculinity which I found to be comfortable as she focused her performance on the music and not on some meaningless and un-needed affectations which some other less skilled performer might easily lapse into.

Janai Brugger and Angela Brower in Idomeneo at the Lyric Opera. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Janai Brugger and Angela Brower in Idomeneo at the Lyric Opera. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

Janai Brugger who played Liu in Lyric’s 2017 Turandot is stunning once again, this time as Idamante’s love interest, the tortured Ilia. The two are kept separated by the perfectly evil Elettra (Erin Wall). You will have to get a ticket to see how it all works out.

This production utilizes a “stand-and-deliver” approach. By this I mean that there is little movement of the actors. So in terms of my more modern sensibilities I would have liked to have seen more “physical acting.” On the other hand this is Mozart and the music is outstanding and beautiful from beginning to end so they could have done this as a concert and it would have been equally enjoyable.

The costumes and scenic design featuring a giant head of Neptune by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle seems adequate but generally unremarkable, dated, and even confusing.

The visual production felt predictable and fell short for me.  All scenery, properties, and costumes were constructed for The Metropolitan Opera which was originally directed by Ponnelle and premiered at The Met October 14, 1982. They used it again in their 2017 season.  This revival was directed by David Kneuss.

It’s always a good idea to see any opera performed by a world class company like The Lyric Opera of Chicago, with their outstanding orchestra and chorus if you have the opportunity. Don’t avoid this, but if you are a casual opera goer looking for which opera to see this season, it’s possible that this one might appeal more to those with slightly more nuanced tastes or those who are particular Mozart fans.

DETAILS: Idomeneo is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, through Nov. 2, 2018. Running time: 3 hrs, 30 min. with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600  or visit Lyric Opera

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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