The night after an incendiary Sondra Radvanovsky introduced Cherubini to the Met and burned the house down Mozart began the rebuilding with a superbly cast, vibrantly conducted Idomeneo.
On Wednesday, the Met revived its one-and-only staging of Mozart’s 1781 redemptive masterpiece almost exactly forty years after its premiere. I attended that initial October 14, 1982 performance because I love Idomeneo and it was my birthday, perfect excuses to visit New York for my first Met Mozart and my first Met new production premiere.
Although I’d already heard Luciano Pavarotti and John Alexander, I hadn’t yet experienced live three then-favorite performers: Ileana Cotrubas, Hildegard Behrens and Frederica von Stade, the last returning to the company after a six-and-a-half-year absence. The night was a memorable one, and the dynamic classicism of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production impressed me mightily then and it did so again in 2022.
I have attended numerous Met revivals since then but few were as vivid as Wednesday’s, the occasion of conductor Manfred Honeck’s debut. The Austrian-born Music Director of the Pittsburgh Orchestra may not be well known for his opera work, but he clearly should be. From the crisp first measures of the overture, he made it clear that we were in for a special evening.
Honeck brought a revelatory transparency to Mozart’s music drawing particularly ravishing playing from the Met’s winds. Tempi were, for the most part, swift yet taut, majestic and moving. He paced the challenging final scene impeccably from the horrifying prospect of Idamante’s sacrifice to the buoyant rejoicing at his longed-for rescue via last-minute deus ex machina intervention. His approach couldn’t have been more different from that of Rene Jacobs who led the last fabulous Idomeneo I attended, but it was equally exceptional. One prays that Honeck will be invited back often to the Met!
His impeccable cast, with one exception, excelled. Even the small but crucial role of the High Priest was cast with rising dramatic tenor Issachah Savage who imbued his lines with a clarion urgency. However, Paolo Fanale, returning to the company for the first time since his Falstaff Fenton eight years ago, struggled mightily with Arbace’s florid second-act aria.
Michael Spyres, the evening’s third tenor, in-spyred one of the most fervent Met/Mozart ovations in my hearing after his brilliant “Fuor del mar.” Perhaps its fiendish coloratura flowed more smoothly on his recent Baritenor CD, but Wednesday’s fierce two octave-plus cadenza crowned by a stunning high D-natural stopped the show.
Spyres’s nobly moving Idomeneo wasn’t just a bravura triumph: singing strongly throughout, he brought more colors to his portrayal of the tortured king than I had experienced from others in the Ponnelle production. Few have been sterner in their initial rejection of Idamante, and few more poignantly resigned at the opera’s conclusion.
Early in the evening Kate Lindsey as Idamante indulged in a bit too much straight tone but eventually grew warmer, less mannered. Perhaps encouraged by Ying Fang, her luminous Ilia, she was at her best in their joyous love duet. Fang too began at slightly less than her best in the captive’s first recitative and aria, but then her heavenly “Se il padre perdei” suffused the enormous Met with radiance.
Often the difficult role of Elettra is cast with bold sopranos who can spit out the character’s fiery arias but come to grief in the aching lyricism of the second act’s “Idol mio.” Federica Lombardi, last spring’s glorious Countess, proved that she could excel at both of Elettra’s extremes. While her first aria of rage and disappointment was certainly effective, I didn’t get the diva chills I definitely did during her sizzling “D’Oreste d’Ajace.”
Not to be outdone by Spyres, Lombardi concluded the aria with a smashing unwritten high C, a boffo interpolation I’d never heard in person. Though that invited another roaring ovation, I’ll most remember her meltingly lovely “Idol mio” during which her softly spun high notes positively glowed: breathtaking!
During Idomeneo, I thought back to the previous evening’s Médée, the Cherubini unfortunately performed by the Met in the impossibly outdated Lechner/Zangarini edition. The Italian composer must have known Mozart’s important transitional work which premiered 16 years earlier and recalled his Elettra when creating his own angry, lovesick Mediterranean princess.
If you can, seize the rare, illuminating opportunity to absorb both operas within a few days of each other.
Photos: Karen Almond / Met Opera