MOZART: Idomeneo (Britten ed.)

Music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Libretto by Giovanni Battista Varesco after IdomenÈe by Antoine Danchet.

First performance: 29 January 1781 at the Hoftheater, Munich
Revised version, 13 March 1786 at the palace of Prince Johan Adam Auersperg, Vienna

Principal Characters:

Idomeneo, King of Crete Tenor
Idamante, his son Soprano or Tenor
Ilia, Trojan princess, daughter of Priam, King of Troy Soprano
Elettra, princess, daughter of Agamemnon, King of Argos Soprano
Arbace, the King’s confidant Tenor
High Priest of Neptune Tenor
Voice of Neptune Bass

Time and Place: Sidone, capital of Crete, after the Trojan War.


Act I

Scene 1. A room in the royal palace

Idomeneo, King of Crete, is expected home after the Trojan War. He has
been preceded by his Trojan captives, including Ilia, one of the daughters of
King Priam.

On arrival in Crete she had been rescued from a shipwreck by Idamante, son
of Idomeneo, and the two have fallen in love, though not yet admitted this to
one another. Ilia bemoans her fate as a captive deprived of her home and
family, a slave in love with the son of her captor. She also fears that
Idamante’s affections have been won by Elettra (Electra), daughter of
Agamemnon, who has fled from her home after the murder of her mother
Clytemnestra and sought refuge in Crete.

Idamante tells Ilia that his father’s ships have been sighted and
announces his intention of setting free the Trojan prisoners. He confesses
his love, but she rejects him, refusing to admit her own love and reminding
him of the gulf which separates them. Elettra reproaches Idamante for freeing
the Trojans. Arbace, Idomeneo’s counsellor, reports that Idomeneo’s ships
have been wrecked in a storm and he has been drowned. All rush out except
Elettra, who has perceived Idamante’s love for Ilia and gives vent to her own
jealous love for him.

Scene 2. A rocky part of the coast

Idomeneo has not been drowned. Washed ashore on the coast of Crete, he
laments a vow he made to Neptune, God of the Sea, that if he was spared he
would sacrifice to Neptune the first person he met on land. The first person
he meets is his son, who is searching for him. Having been separated for 10
years they do not recognise one another at first. When recognition comes,
Idamante tries to embrace his father, but Idomeneo rushes away in horror,
leaving his son thinking he has angered his father. Joined by their wives and
families, Idomeneo’s troops rejoice at their safe homecoming.

Act II

Scene 1. The royal apartments

Idomeneo confides his predicament to Arbace and begs him to find some way
of saving Idamante from the consequences of his rash vow. Arbace can only
suggest sending Idamante away and Idomeneo seizes on the hope thus offered
and decides to send his son to escort Elettra on her journey home. Ilia
congratulates Idomeneo on his safe arrival. He begs her to shake off her
sadness and confirms Idamante’s action of setting the Trojans free. Ilia is
comforted and feels that she has gained a new father in Idomeneo. He realises
that she is in love with Idamante and grieves that his rash vow will prove
the death of three people, as he and Ilia will die of grief at the death of

Elettra is delighted when Idomeneo tells her that Idamante is to escort
her, as she hopes he will learn to love her when he is parted from Ilia.

Scene 2. The port of Sidon

Preparing to embark, Elettra bids farewell to Crete. Idamante grieves at
having to leave his new-found father and his beloved. They are prevented from
embarking when a storm springs up and a monster emerges from the sea, a sign
of Neptune’s anger. When the people wonder who can have aroused the god’s
wrath, Idomeneo confesses that he is the guilty one, without explaining the
details of his sin.


Scene 1. The palace gardens

Idamante tells Ilia that he now seeks death since his father has rejected
him and she does not love him. She confesses that she does love him, even
though her honor advises against it.

They are interrupted by Idomeneo and Elettra, both distressed, for
different reasons, by the love between Idamante and Ilia. Idamante again begs
his father to explain the reason for his sternness, but Idomeneo is still
unwilling to reveal his vow. Arbace tells Idomeneo that the people are
waiting to hear his intentions.

Scene 2. A public square

The high priest of Neptune begs Idomeneo to do somthing about the monster,
which is killing innocent people. Idomeneo confesses his vow, explains that
the victim is his son and promises to carry it out.

Scene 3. In front of the temple of Neptune

Preparations for the sacrifice are interrupted by Arbace, who announces
that Idamante, seeking death, has killed the monster. Arbace feels that they
are saved, but Idomeneo fears that the wrath of Neptune will be even

Idamante appears, ready to undergo the sacrifice, glad that his father’s
apparent severity was only distress at the consequences of his vow. He tells
his father not to hesitate to carry out the sacrifice, and commends Ilia to
him, but she wishes to take Idamante’s place as the victim. The voice of
Neptune is heard, announcing that love has triumphed. He frees Idomeneo from
his vow, but demands that he abdicate and yield the throne to Idamante and
Ilia. All rejoice except Elettra.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Mosaic of Neptune
first_audio_name=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Idomeneo
product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Idomeneo
English version by Maisie and Evelyn Radford
Edition prepared by Benjamin Britten
product_by=Idomeneo: Peter Pears
Idamante: Anne Pashley
Ilia: Heather Harper
Electra: Rae Woodland
Arbace: Robert Tear
High Priest: Paul Nemeer
Messenger: Peter Bamber
Voice of Neptune: Anthony Williams
Trojan Women: Alexandra Browning/Carolyn Maia
Trojan Men: Paul Wade/Peter Leemimg
Cretan Women: Erica Busch/Judith Stubbs
English Opera Chorus
English Chamber Orchestra
Benjamin Britten (cond.)
Live performance, 10 June 1969, Blythburgh Church (sung in English)