By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh
The best thing about Mozart’s Idomeneo is that the action moves swiftly between the singers on stage and the orchestra in the pit. Add a bunch of naked Trojan prisoners and a dominating giant-donut Neptune on stage, the opera becomes irresistibly eye-catching.
That was the case for the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Idomeneo on May 12.
On stage under the direction of French director Francois de Carpentries, the stunning, contemporary set created by German designer Siegfried Mayer made a lasting impression as soon as the curtain went up. It’s minimalistic but not bare; bold but not out of touch.
In the pit with British conductor Harry Bicket, the COC orchestra stirred up a mayhem in spite of frequent stops and starts in the score. The music, while not as glorious as the composer’s later operas like Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi, and Magic Flute, is a diamond in the rough that only gets better each time you confront it.
The rest is a largely Canadian cast that is one of the strongest the COC has assembled this season. Isabel Bayrakdarian, one of Canada’s hottest sopranos, sang the role of Trojan princess Ilia. Bayrakdarian is a moving singer who doesn’t sacrifice good phrasings and articulations for cheap drama. There are three words that can best describe her singing overall: beautiful, beautiful, and beautiful.
Hungarian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó as Idamante, son of Idomeneo, was stately and passionate. She owned the role with confidence and refined techniques, all the while making it sound and look easy in this difficult pants role.
American soprano Tamara Wilson has a voice that can stop the traffic and she pretty much stole the show whenever possible as Elettra, the Greek princess who wants Idamante for herself and is jealous of Ilia for having scored his affection without trying. Her final aria in Act 3 was all the rage and wildly schizophrenic – an absolute highlight of the entire performance.
Making his COC debut is American tenor Paul Groves, who is one hell of a castaway Idomeneo struggling to spare his son from Neptune. With emotion, precision, and lots of talent, Groves gave himself to the role. His voice – powerful and clearly unforgettable – carried him above the orchestra like the mighty Neptune donut ring that overlooks the set.
Irish-Canadian tenor Michael Colvin as Arbace, Idomeneo’s adviser, delivered a solid and outstanding performance, as did tenor Adam Luther of Newfoundland in the role of high priest of Neptune. The nicely choreographed COC chorus was mesmerizing to watch and even more so to listen to.
Idomeneo continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on May 15, 18, 21, 25, 27, and 29. A special COC Ensemble Studio performance of the same production takes place on May 19.