Sunday, July 17, 2011

Komische Oper 'Festival 2011: Idomeneo for the future

Idomeneo, Komische Oper in Berlin, July 15 2011

    Benedikt von Peter ..... director
    Patrick Lange ..... conductor

    Rainer Trost ..... Idomeneo
    Karolina Gumos ..... Idamante
    Erika Roos ..... Elektra
    Brigitte Geller ..... Ilia

    Anton Hiller ..... Das Kind

If you know well this opera and you like to be surprised, then this is definitely a production to cherish.  
Patrick Lange has no problem filling the shoes of Kirill Petrenko as the music director of the Komische Oper. Superb conductor that he is, he decided to chromatize quite strongly Idomeneo and give the score a romantic sound. I don't know how much von Peter and Lange collaborated on this production but the music interpretation and the stage direction were both peculiar but in perfect synch with each other: von Peter's (post)Freudian dramatic perspective resonates with Lange's (post)Wagnerian reading of the score.

Another peculiarity of Lange's conducting was his choice of tempi: in the first act he opted for a very  slow pace (the opposite to what we've recently had in Paris), and then slowly/progressively accelerated to reach the usual pace somewhere in the middle of Act 3. The initial slowness definitely exacerbated the thickness of the string sounds, and it took a heck of the breathing control by excellent Brigitte Geller to pull "Padre, germani, adio!" so well (or whatever is the German translation of the Ilia's opening aria).
The sound from the pit is thick, broad and rich, and yet it never covers the singers.  This just tells you that this Lange guy is seriously great!  Another impressive musical aspect is that all da capo are done meticulously, and they too are different from what you usually get in Idomeneo today. All that would have not worked so well without the fantastic Komische Oper chorus that especially in the third act sounded glorious.

Rainer Trost - Idomeneo

What about the singers? Richard Croft is one of my absolute fave singers and his Idomeneo is so strongly carved in my brain that I thought I would not be able to enjoy anyone else singing that role again. But you have to give it to Rainer Trost: his voice is healthy, big, flexible, and he transcends the technical bravura by impersonating all the torments of the title role. To that add his remarkable scenic presence, and in the end you get your new reference Idomeneo. 

Brigitte Geller and Karolina Gumos - Ilia and Idamante

Karolina Gumos' Idamante is excellent too. Her voice is rich and she would not have trouble filling up vocally any large opera house.

Erika Roos - Elettra/Elektra

A total discovery for me --and what a discovery!-- was Elektra sung by Erika Roos. Komische Oper  hit the jackpot by bringing her into their ensemble. It is almost disappointing to learn that she's from Sweden ;-) [What do they feed them with over there? How many big sopranos are not from Sweden?!]
Erika is what I'd call a natural born opera-singer. Her 5 stars scenic presence accompanies a big soprano voice. She's very young and her voice is still very flexible, and that makes your jaw drop more than once when you see her hitting the high notes as if they were nothing. After Anna Netrebko she's the only singer to sing "D'Oreste, d'Ajace" with such a level of stamina. She even added an extra E-flat in the end of this extraordinarily difficult aria -- aria that ended with Elektra collapsing and falling in a water pool. What a stunning performance that was!  I hope she takes a good care of her voice (the timbre resembles that of Svetlana Ignatovich) and becomes our big name for tomorrow.

Now what about the concept for this show? Benedikt von Peter decided to make it about Idomeneo's internal psychological struggle. He's a war veteran who is haunted by his past, by the choices he'd  made. He's having hard time in coping with everyday life, and with the fact that he's getting old.

Idomeneo with his grand son. Elektra is hovering in the background

His mind is stretched between the two poles: on one hand there is Elektra representing his ominous side (that  devilish side sitting in every one of us) and the bad choices he'd made in the past, while on the other side there is Ilia representing the goodness, peace and comfort. Idamante is in fact the projection of him looking for his fatherly figure too. That's a thread that unites them all: Elektra, Ilia, Idamante/Idomeneo. They all are missing their fathers and deal with it in three different ways. While that fuels the Elektra's rage, Ilia feels insecure and longs for warmth, love and protection, and Idamante fights to reach to his father and to be a good father himself.

Idamante is therefore Idomeneo, a male character fighting the curse of Neptune, striving to take control of his life stretched between Elektra and Ilia. Yes, that would be simple if there was no a parallel story going on that happens in Idomeneo's real life (both real and mental side coexist on the stage).
In reality, Idomeneo is an old man. His daughter in law Ilia takes care of him and her son.

Idomeneo realizes he's too old and feels the need to open his heart to someone, to confess. His relation with Idamante is troubled by the (inverse) Oedipus Complex and he sees in his grand someone he can trust to. But there, Ilia does not want her young son to be exposed to the old man's stories.
In his son, Idomeneo sees someone he loves dearly, but at the same time he sees in him a menace: someone who is coming to take his place, and thereby his life  from him. That's actually how von Peter sees the curse Idomeneo received from Neptune: his incommensurable fatherly love is in a subconscious conflict with his desire to stay in life, in command.  

Idomeneo in command with his grand son (Idamante is on the floor, Elektra is looming in the background)

Elektra is the one who inflames that subconscious Idomeneo's fear from Idamante -- which he, of course, rejects rationally (like every one of us). She blows the winds of doubts in his mind, rehashing his past  that makes him feel miserable at present.

In the end she will even give him a knife suggesting him to slit his son's throat (inverse Oedipus Complex), but Ilia and her son will stand up and prevent Idomeneo from going mad. Idamante in that scene is blindfolded literally and figuratively. The moment with Idomeneo throwing the knife away triggers Elektra's sensational "D'Oreste, d'Ajace".

Scenically the whole opera takes place on a wooden deck of a ship that is cracked somewhere in the middle filled with water. That is his mind which is populated by the people orderly sitting on the chairs waiting for the storms to happen in his mind.

The scene with Idomeneo struggling between his desire to stay the paterfamilias, and his wish to let his son take his place is nicely represented by the game on chairs [he steps up on the chair at first [with his grand son), and towards the end it will be Idamante and Ilia with their son standing on the chairs].  It gets extra non-trivial at the moment when Ilia fights for Idamante. She's not just a fragile woman. She stood up for Idamante and for her son:

I should also mention that in this version Arbace is left out, as well as the High priest of Neptune.

All in all, to me this was a fantastic production -- the kind that one cannot see anywhere else but in Basle, Stuttgart, Brussels or at the Komische in Berlin. Great job by Benedikt von Peter, and a huge bravo to all the musicians!

More production photos below [all are ©Komische Oper and ©Frank Straub]

The famous quartet scene with Idamante and Idomeneo sharing one chair, while Elektra and Ilia share another
and my CC pics:

This is how the stage looks before the beginning of the second part: at the Komische the theater starts happening before the music begins

Bravo to the Komische Oper chorus!

SUPERB cast: Erika Roos, Karolina Gumos, Brigitte Geller, and Rainer Trost

Patrick Lange gets his share of bravos!

and finally the trailer:

1 comment:

  1. If you use photos of me, then please link my side. Thank you Frank Straub