Monday, June 20, 2011

Delicately produced Idomeneo in Paris: Bravi tutti!

Idomeneo, Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, June 15 2011

Stéphane Braunschweig ..... director
Jérémie Rhorer ..... conductor

Sophie Karthäuser ..... Ilia
Richard Croft ..... Idomeneo
Kate Lindsey ..... Idamante
Alexandra Coku ..... Elettra
Paolo Fanale ..... Arbace
Nigel Robson ..... High priest
Nahuel Di Pierro ..... The voice of Neptune

Le Cercle de l'Harmonie
Choeur Les Eléments direction Joël Suhubiette

This is one of those very rare shows in which everything seems to have fallen in its right place and the show progresses with great delicacy without ever getting close to cheesiness or triviality. A pure gem!

I should first confess that I LOVE this opera. I love it especially for the way music is used to built an emotional journey: every aria has its particular purpose and even though it is tough to stage, if successful the contact between music and what's going on on the stage can produce fantastic effect. I didn't have doubt that Stéphane Braunschweig would do a good job with this work. Unlike with Wagner, he is at ease with this kind of works. In this show he managed to highlight what many producers fail to isolate.  This opera is about love, about the love triangle (Ilia-Idamante-Elettra) immersed in Idomeneo's tragic fate. And then there is a guilt as a driving element to the drama itself.

Idomeneo's guilt may appear a bit absurd at first, but  deeply authentic and --for lack of a better word-- human. In spite of himself, he's inflicted a series of tragedies on him, on his son, on his people (or so he believes) -- and his guilt becomes unbearable. Since the piece is inspired by Greek mythology it is understandable that humans are tricked and played around by the Gods, but the underlying purpose of it all is to bring a very human emotion to the surface.

In this show there are no busy decors nor bulky sets to make this theater work. It's about the emotional journey and it is to be conveyed by the actors/singers. The sets are simple, classy-looking IMO, and cleverly organized: an a blue ground and the white background there is a large construction which essentially looks like an empty cube without a lid, filling the entire width/depth of the stage.  It  is efficiently used to bring the feeling of confinement of the Trojan prisoners in the opening scene  (and with Ilia among them.) Soon we see that this wooden structure can be decomposed --like a jigsaw puzzle-- and moved around to depict the fleet, the ship-wreckage that Idomeneo would survive, only to pay a terrible price to Neptune...

In the third Act there is a long red board (roses, blood)  depicting the road taken by each of the main characters -- a path that has both the physical and metaphorical meaning. In this simple, yet cleverly organized stage the space for dramatic action is left to the actors, wonderfully guided and directed by Stéphane. It is obvious that they had enough rehearsal time and Stéphane has been working well with them to the point that they all appear at ease in their roles and they all look like they've worked together since long time.

Elettra in this show is not just a caricature that we're not seldom given to see: she's not just in love with Idamante and hates Ilia. Here, her rage is sexually driven: she's simply a girl who's sexually attracted to Idamante and all her actions relate to that (primitive) desire. Alexandra Coku conveys that admirably on the stage. By the end of the show she seems consumed by her unquenchable desire and... and by guilt -- the fil rouge of Braunschweig's concept for this production.

The love between Ilia and Idamante is beautifully sculpted too. It almost naturally converges to a point at which Idamante understood that Ilia too was in love with him, the moment at which  his despair suddenly transformed into equally intense desire to live -- desire that would give him strength to kill the giant snake (a giant obstacle to his happiness.) Good looks and a beautiful voice make Sophie Karthäuser a perfect Ilia, while Kate Lindsey was my great surprise in this production. But what to say about Richard Croft, Re di Creta? He knows this role too well, and no one can sing it as good as he can. He already amazed us 2 years ago as Idomeneo in Aix en Province. Here he does it again, in this theater perfectly sized for Mozart's operas, incarnating in the classiest possible way this tragic, yet multidimensional character.

Jérémie Rhorer and his orchestra Le Cercle de l'Harmonie are known to be experts in Mozart's repertoire, but I believe they surpassed themselves in this show: with a lively and precise execution, and impeccably mastered tempi, they never took the limelight from the singers, nor the singers got detached from the orchestra. Brilliant!

Sophie Karthäuser sings the role of Ilia with innocence, fragility, feminity, and her lovely timbre helps her character bloom on the stage -- just like the roses she was laying on that red path during her beautifully sung Zeffiretti lusinghieri. But wait, it gets better when you realize how her voice is in harmony with that of Idamante -- brilliantly sung by Kate Lindsey, a girl who we hope to see more often and cherish in the future.  Paolo Fanale is a pretty Mozartian voice that we recently saw in Berlin (in Cosi fan tutte), and here he does his part admirably well. His voice is suited for  smaller venues, so his Arbace worked very well with the crowd at TCE.
Richard Croft is one of my favorite singers (no one compares to him when it comes to Mozart.) This role is extremely difficult for the tenors because it requires everything from the singer: to be at ease in the higher register, to have good/audible gravi, and the rock solid medium. And even with all that, if you cannot chromatise it to convey that despair, guilt, shame... it won't work. If you overdo these effects it won't work either -- it may get vulgar (verismo-like). And so Richard Croft manages to check all the cases and sings the best Idomeneo ever. His recording in this role with Jacobs is on my iPod.

So there was one of the best shows I've seen this year, a delicately produced show with a refined stage action, that is so painfully rare to see in operas presented in Paris these days. 

production photos ©Alvaro Yañez

Some of my pics

Kate Lindsey, Alexandra Coku, and Paolo Fanale

Richard Croft and Sophie Karthäuser

Jérémie Rhorer and the protagonists of this excellent Idomeneo

Stéphane Braunschweig (and I don't know who's the lady standing next to him)

Short video glimpse [France3 tv]


  1. Kate Lindsey is all kinds of awesome. She's really spreading her wings and unfortunately doing less stuff at the Met.

  2. There is a misspelling. Kate Lindsey is spelled with an "e" and her website is

  3. Many thanks dear Anonymous. This just proves that doing it fast does not mean doing it right. Thx again!

    Marcillac, she's our new gem and she should def do more things in Europe, gain more experience and further explore her great talent.

    I hope to be able to see this Idomeneo once again. Maybe tomorrow... ;)

  4. Many thanks for this great review and wonderful photos. We have posted it on Kate's Facebook fan page at

  5. Thanks! I'll actually go and see the last show tonite ;)