This is, like many opera seria works, about a conflict between love (in this case paternal love) and duty. Idomeneo, King of Crete, a hero of the Trojan War, has vowed to Neptune that he will sacrifice the first human he sees upon his safe return home. That turns out to be his son Idamante, who is involved in a very complex love triangle--another common feature of opera seria--and great efforts are made to nullify the oath. Neptune, furious, sends a sea monster to devastate Crete; Idamante kills the monster, and there is finally intervention from heaven to secure the happy ending that is also mandatory in opera seria. Gardiner's performance, with excellent singers, period instruments and carefully studied style, is not dramatically convincing (how could it be?) but it accepts the music on its own terms and finds in it a very special beauty. --Joe McLellan
The excellent recorded sound, period orchestra, and thrill of a live performance makes this my top choice Idomeneo, narrowly edging out Davis/Araiza.
Gardiner does not perhaps find the drama in the music that Davis brings out and having a period band does not always help him to do so, but so much here is sharp and punchy that I am loathe to moan too much. Von Otter sings beautifully with the usual touch of blandness that I find is nearly always present in her singing; the same is true of the rather characterless but vocally secure Martinpelto. Sylvia McNair does not have to be quite so gung-ho in the passive, suffering role of Ilia and her silvery soprano is a delight.
Providing in an appendix the extra and alternative music Mozart cut out of the first Munich production to enhance dramatic coherence and pace is sensible and scholarly, although I might have countenanced restoring some of the best missing passages given that this is a recording and not a performance.
This is certainly amongst the best things Gardiner has given us and has done its bit to rehabilitate "Idomeneo"; it is also a fitting memorial to Rolfe Johnson, who died from Alzheimer's at only 70 years old in 2010; his "Fuor del mar" is superb.
As one scholar says, no two of Mozart's operas are alike -- while they share classifications and stylistic elements, they can each of them be considered sui generis in many respects. 'Idomeneo' was the first dramatic opera in Mozart's mature style; written while he was still in Salzberg, it attracted the attention of come in the musical court in Vienna. There are decidedly French qualities to 'Idomeneo', with influences apparent both in the composition and the anecdotal evidence from Mozart's contemporaries.
This particular piece includes a composite of most of Mozart's 1781 composition on 'Idomeneo', following a rediscovery of the original performance score. However, Mozart continued to edit the score, sometimes even in between performances one night from the next, so a 'standard' scoring is next to impossible to obtain on this opera.
The story is based on the ancient gods and goddesses, human frailty and foolishness, and, of course, love. Idomeneo makes a vow to sacrifice to the god Neptune should he be saved; he breaks his vow when it turns out his son will be the likely sacrifice. Meanwhile, Ilia, the daughter of Priam, king of the newly-destroyed city Troy, arrives as an already-tragic figure. Ilia falls for Idamante, son of Idomeneo, but is competing with the jealous Elettra, who does not wish there to be a Trojan queen of Crete. In the end, the gods will not be put off of their promised sacrifices, and while Idamante is saved, there is drama in unrequited love in several directions, and Idomeneo has to yield the throne in the end.
John Eliot Gardiner, conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists out of Queen Elizabeth Hall in London (1990), is one of the masters of classical music in the past generation. Anthony Rolfe Johnson is the lead as Idomeneo; Anne Sofie Von Otter sings the part of the young son, Idamante, in a part that might have been a castrati part in the past. Sylvia McNair is Ilia, Hillevi Martinfelto is Elettra, and Nigel Robson rounds out the major parts as Arbace, the king's advisor.
This live recording is a technical masterpiece, a bit thin in some pieces, but overall rather satisfying. Anne Sofie von Otter probably has the best overall performance here, but the others do a nice job as a group. There aren't many arias or parts for individuals to use to make stand-out impressions (that fault, if indeed it constitutes a fault, is the composer rather than the performers), as many are accustomed to finding in Mozart operas. The English Baroque Soloists are an interesting touch, but a fuller orchestra and scoring might serve better here.
Still, this is an Archiv production of Deutsche Grammophon, one of the leading lights in classical music recording.