Idomeneo - Opera Australia

Mozart’s Idomeneo: Artistic Excellence Takes Centre Stage at the Sydney Opera House

Idomeneo was Mozart’s first serious opera and is a renowned – albeit underperformed – masterpiece. It’s full of irreconcilable opposites: good versus evil, peace versus war, love versus duty. Director Lindy Hume’s new production adds another opposition into the mix: ancient versus contemporary. The opera’s stripped back set and modern costume design allows for the central themes of, love, grief, and divine intervention to shine.

The celebrated tenor Anton Raff was 67 years old when he created the role of Idomeneo at the work’s premiere in 1781. Set on the island of Crete shortly after the Trojan War, Idomeneo is a Homeric legend. It’s an exploration of humanity through King Idomeneo’s relationships with a God, his kingdom, and his family. For saving his crew from a storm at sea, Idomeneo rashly promised the God Neptune (Poseidon In Greek mythology) he would sacrifice the first person he sees. To his horror, he discovers the sacrifice is his beloved son and heir Idamante. Meanwhile, Idamante is wrought with his own problems. He is in love with Ilia, the daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam. However, Elettra, the daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon, has set her sights on becoming Queen of Crete and must marry Idamante to get her way.Idomeneo - Opera AustraliaIdomeneo - Opera Australia

The set strips back to a single unadorned interior with a bare wooden floor surrounded by three walls and three doors leading to unknown rooms. Feeling like déjà vu? You’re right. We have seen it before. Set Designer Yeargan has repurposed his 1989 Werther set. It’s also being reused for this season’s staging of The Magic Flute. Instead of using the set’s transparent walls, Set Design Consultant Richard Roberts opts for opaque walls. While, Video Designer David Bergman cleverly project visuals to mirror the characters emotions. Standout moments included the inkblot spreading across the walls during Idomeneo’s aria Four del mar, and the raging see of blood that accompanies Elettra’s D’Oresete d’Ajace. The remaining footage is of coastal cliffs, crashing waves, soaring birds and rainforests.

However, the minimal set and modern costume leave little – well a lot – to the imagination. If it’s your first time seeing Idomeneo, you might feel confused through the first act (as was my Plus One). Visually the first half lags. Chairs are carried off and on and the real action – storms at sea, shipwrecks, and fights with a sea monster – happen off stage and are rather static. However, it is the flawless mastery of the vocal and musical performances that makes this production worth seeing.

Having performed the titular role of Idomeneo all over Europe for the last 15 years, Tenor Michael Schade navigates the complexities of Mozart’s arias with ease. With a powerful voice and refined dramatic skill, he sings with control and purity of sound. Tenors John Longmuir, as Idomeneo’s confidant Arbace, and Kanen Breen, as the High Priest, are equally impressive in their performances.

Idomeneo - Opera AustraliaIdomeneo - Opera AustraliaThe young lovers Idamente and Ilia were also beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Caitlin Hulcup and soprano Celeste Lazarenko, respectively. Both brought a lightness in moments of adoration and depth to their character’s raw emotions.

Emma Pearson dazzled in the role of Elettra. Pearson’s dominates the stage in the aria D’Oreste d’Ajace. Her strong vocals invoke the fury of the underworld, spitting out jealousy and revenge that’s perfectly fitting the crescendos and accelerando of Mozart’s score. Her whirl of fury is felt and leaves a lasting impression – eliciting the loudest cheer from the crowd after the final curtain.

Under the masterful baton of German conductor Johannes Fritzsch and led by Concertmaster Huy-Nguyen Bui, the Opera Australia Orchestra delivered a flawless performance. The orchestra demonstrated a keen musicality and profound understanding of Mozart’s score. The Opera Australia Chorus also delivered a top-tier performance.

Mozart’s Idomeneo at the Sydney Opera House is a triumph of artistic excellence. The stellar collaboration between orchestra and cast brought the opera to life. While a stripped back set and modern costume design might not be for everyone – particularly lovers of lavish operas. However, the opera proves that grief, love and hope are just as prevalent in the modern world as they were in ancient times.


– Antoinette Milienos
Antoinette is a Journalist, Violinist, and chronic suffer of F.O.M.O (fear of missing out).

Idomeneo runs for approximately 3 hours, including one interval. The opera plays at Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House through to March 15. Buy tickets now. The venue is accessible. 

Disclaimer: Antoinette Milienos was an invited guest of Opera Australia.
Photocred: Keith Saunders