OPERA ATELIER’S “IDOMENEO” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, April 26, Elgin Theatre, Toronto.

Waves agitated to murderous fury by raging winds—Neptune’s display of his power—and the calm that follows when he is appeased—also Neptune’s display, symbolize the emotional range of Mozart’s “Idomeneo”. Set in the aftermath of the Trojan War—itself a reflection on earth of a divine dispute—Mozart’s first masterpiece looks at a quartet of hearts torn by conflict.

The captive Trojan princess Ilia (Peggy Kriha Dye) can not give in to her growing love for Idamante, the heir of Idomeneo who was a leader of the Greek coalition that destroyed her family and country. Idamante (Michael Maniaci), who senses the love in Ilia, is lacerated by her refusal of his love; he is also bewildered by the coldness his father appears to show him for no good reason. Idomeneo (Kresimir Spicer), victorious in battle, and recently saved from death by drowning has a reason: he is tormented by a promise to sacrifice his son to Neptune as payment for the mercy shown to him and his drowning crew. If it were possible to measure the depth of despair, then deepest in it would be Elettra, the Greek princess who has lately murdered her mother in revenge for killing her father and is on the boil again, this time because Idamante loves not her but her rival, Ilia, who is of the enemy.

This ‘sacrifice opera’, rich in pathos, because the humans are bound to submit to the will of the god, and for the same reason less rich in dramatic tension, resolves in the third act when Idamante learns the truth of his role and willingly offers to be his father’s victim. His noble obedience pacifies Neptune. The happy lilt of Mozart’s music embraces cast and audience alike, except for the unhappy Elettra, played magnificently in her operatic debut by Measha Brueggergosman, who’s final aria expresses fury beyond the limits of sanity.

We have come to expect outstanding productions from Opera Atelier and we get what we come for. Kresimir Spicer’s tenor was remarkable for a kind of speaking voice naturalness that makes his Idomeneo likeable as well as believable from his first entrance. Spicer goes from strength to strength unleashing the astonishing power of his voice in the prayer to Neptune to punish him alone. Peggy Kriha Dye as Ilia, often alone on the stage, as in the opening aria where she laments her fate, sings beautifully in Act III to the breeze of her nascent love for Idamante, her gestures always gracefully shaped.

Michael Maniaci’s unique soprano astonishes by its integrity and sensitivity. To my ear though, it is not always satisfying to hear a soprano male voice in dialogue with a soprano female voice. Maniaci’s acting is in the mannered style of the Marshall Pynkowski’s direction, and then some, strong in the outstretched arm department. Measha Brueggergosman’s Elettra is perhaps the most difficult role in Mozart. She must intermit futile, imperious rages with her few tender moments as in “Idol mio”, and despite her tender feelings, she draws little sympathy her way. There is no withstanding the electricity of her presence on the stage, nor the richness of her instrument.

The Atelier ballet under Jeanette Zingg, the Opera Atelier chorus, and the Tafelmusik Orchestra conducted by Andrew Parrott, create an environment of extraordinary elegance and privilege. The music, song and dance, sets,costumes and lighting form a living porcelain bowl that has the power to contain the volatile substance of operatic emotion so that we may feel the painfulness of the quartet of torn hearts without discomfort, indeed, with pleasure. Quite the magical formula!

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