Mozart Mistreated at Aix-en-Provence Festival

Nevertheless, Mozart has always
been the core of the Festival repertory and the new production of
“Idomeneo” did look good on paper. The opera has 6 performances,
from July 4 through 17, in the traditional venue, the courtyard of the
Archbishop’s palace in Aix.

Director Olivier Py has been heaped with praise for his work with
Geneva’s opera for the past several years. Recently appointed to head the
top OdÈon–ThÈ‚tre de l’Europe in Paris (where the great Giorgio
Strehler did much of his best work) he seemed a theater god who could do no
wrong. This lumpy, limping production, however, suggests a serious case of clay

First seen on stage are well-dressed African boat people (the Trojan
prisoners in the libretto) who are menaced by AK-47 men in black for no
particular reason. The story-telling did not improve later. Using massive
amounts of structural steel, one critic commented that it was like Mozart
meeting Gustav Eiffel. Actually, it was Eiffel who consistently demonstrated
how light and graceful steel structures could be. Py’s “heavy
metal” approach was oppressive to to the eye and garishly lit. The
ungainly sections were on wheels and, during duets, couples were compelled to
sing while ascend stairs and open doors of the twirling sections, all the while
negotiating Mozartian rapids. The usually-cut ballet sequences (there was no
choreographer credited in the program) had half-naked young men camping it up
when they were not pretending to dismember each other and it reminding this
writer of Madonna’s back-up dancers on tour.

Vocally, it is not promising when the singer with a real feel for the
Mozartian style is the Arbace. Very impressive here, young Xavier Mas is
clearly one to track. In the title role, tenor Richard Croft (Mozart’s
1789 tenor version was used) had often fine moments and his “Fuor del
mar” was well received. Strain, however, was always apparent when the
music went “forte” and beyond. French tenor Yann Beuron, as
Idamante, has had his voice fill out and thicken these past years and, while
still lovely, it no longer has easily agility. The talented Belgian soprano
Sophie Karth‰user impressed as Ilia but, as with the decor, less steel would
have been better.

When the grand Mireille Delunsch first descended the staircase as Elettra
there was an electricity in her voice that demanded attention. But, reaching
stage level and directorial requirements — silent-screen gesticulations
that would have embarrassed Theda Bara — all hope of a definitive
character disappeared. Later, during her final scene, there actually was a
bucket of blood and she went ahead with the sponge bath, putting to rest the
French idea of “du trop.” The Neptune — almost always on
stage waiving his trident — was wearing what appeared to be a bargain
Halloween costume from Woolworths.

07-02Id582.gifA scene from Idomeneo [Photo by E. Carrechio courtesy of Festival d’Aix-en-Provence

The singing, while not up to highest festival standards, served the music
and Marc Minkowski and his Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble contributed a strong
orchestral underpinning with their traditional gusto. A few orchestral sour
notes could be attributed to the changing humidity as night falls — a
traditional problem with outdoor concerts. This opera of the 25 year-old
composer has been receiving much attention in recent years with, as only one
example, a fine new production of Luc Bondy at the Paris Opera. The Aix
production, broadcast throughout Europe on the night I saw it, July 10, is not
likely to induce a flood of ticket request for next season. This is an
extraordinary opera and a cumbersome staging does not show the music to best

Frank Cadenhead

This article first appeared in La Scena Musicale. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

image_description=Mireille Delunsch as Elettra
product_title=W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo
product_by=Idomeneo: Richard Croft; Idamante: Yann Beuron; Ilia: Sophie Karth‰user; Elettra: Mireille Delunsch; Arbace: Xavier Mas; Gran sacerdote di Nettuno: Colin Balzer; La Voce: Luca Tittoto. Choeur Rundfunkchor Berlin / Choeur de la Radio de Berlin. Chef de coeur: Simon Halsey. Orchestre Musiciens du Louvre.Grenoble. Direction musicale: Marc Minkowski. Mise en scËne et lumiËres: Olivier Py. ScÈnographie et costumes: Pierre AndrÈ Weitz.
product_id=Above: Mireille Delunsch as Elettra