IDOMENEO – Star Treatment For Mozart Opera

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

IDOMENEO – Mozart’s 1780 almost-hit (with “too many notes”) scores huge at San Francisco Opera. During Mozart’s entire lifetime, the opera played but three times. Coming in as the fourth offering of the 2008-09 Season, IDOMENEO is an encore presentation of the 1989 John Copley production. During that year, some Bay Area ticket holders will recall their experience with its fourth performance – scheduled Tuesday night, October 17th. “Cancelled!” Neptune (aka, Poseidon), god of the sea and de-terminator of earthquakes, pulled the stops on Loma Prieta. Nine years later, this 2008 revival is on solid ground. IDOMENEO is three hours and twenty-five minutes of engaging entertainment – lovely to look at and thrilling to know. The principals are first-rate regal and across-the-board splendid. The Opera Chorus, under the direction of IAN ROBERTSON, once again proves its MVP status. The production values are stunning and the overall look is simple and efficient. Michael Stennett’s costumes are truly splendid. The fantasy period wardrobe he imposes onto this tale from the Trojan War evokes romantic longings of an 18th Century opening night. The detailing on the royal capes and the elongated trains of “Elletra” (Princess of Argos) and “Ilia” (Princess of Troy) might spark a long-overdue fashion revival in day-ware alone.

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KURT STREIT, Tenor (Idomeneo, 2008). Photo, Terrence McCarthy & ANTON RAAF, Tenor (Opening Night, 1780)

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[Insert photo: IANO TAMAR, Soprano (as Elletra) and GENIA KÜHMEIER, Soprano (as Ilia). Photos, Terrence McCarthy.]

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John Conklin’s representational set designs remain fresh and inspiring, providing a lofty and rarified atmosphere for the King of Crete, along with a floral draped hilltop view of the sea wherein dwells the god Neptune – soon to rise up and lay bloody havoc on the citizenry. Lighting designer Chris Maravich makes extraordinary use of color to support the extreme mood swings of principal characters, particularly for “Elettra” (Iano Tamar) the woman scorned – while the populace is caught in the whirlwinds of victory and defeat, jealousy, guilt, vengeance, and catastrophic Olympian wrath. Mr. Maravich understands the glamorous effect of a spotlight and the psychological undoing caused by divine bolts of lightning – one of which sets fire to the sail of Prince Idamante’s getaway ship.

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MICHAEL STENNETT (Costumes), JOHN CONKLIN (Sets), JOHN COPLEY (Director)

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IDOMENEO, Act II – Photo, Terrence McCarthy

American tenor Kurt Streit is extremely effective in the title role. An alumnus of the 1986 Merola Opera Program, the handsome singer excels in the Mozart repertoire gaining much international acclaim for his interpretation of “Idomeneo” – most recently performed in Madrid and Vienna and captured on DVD in the production from Naples Opera. He also shines as “Ferrando” on two recordings of COSI FAN TUTTE. Mr. Streit remained consistent throughout the performance, demonstrating a strong lyric tenor with authority in the lower register and an amazing agility in handling traditional ornamentations and florid runs. His aria of Act II, “Fuor del mar” (“Saved from the sea”) was superb. “I have a raging sea
more fearsome than before within my bosom,” exclaims the King of Crete. The aria lasts for about five minutes. “Stern god,” he cries, “tell me at least, if my body was so close to shipwreck, for what cruel purpose was that wreck withheld?” The answer for the audience is clearly about keeping Mr. Streit on stage as long as possible COSI FAN TUTTE. Until he returns one of these days (perhaps with baritone Nathan Gunn in …?), Kurt will be traveling to Amsterdam to appear as “Alfred” in DIE FLEDERMAUS, to Vienna as “Emilio” for Handel’s rarely performed PARTENOPE, to Frankfurt in the title role of Hans Pfitzner’s PALESTRINA, and then on to the Royal Opera, Covent Garden for Handel’s TAMERLANO. Come back, Kurt!

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ALICE COOTE, Mezzo-Soprano – as IDAMANTE, son of Idomeneo

In the trouser role of “Idamante”, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote cuts a dashing figure in her guise as the son of Idomeneo, the desired and ideal husband for at least two eligible princesses, saviour to Crete, and the chosen one of the god Neptune. Her vocals and commanding stage presence attest to these shining attributes. Towards the end of Act 1 comes one of Idamante’s best moments – the aria, “Il padre adorato”. Ms. Coote is solidly convincing as the total innocent who does not understand his father’s anger and withholding of affection. Come the finale and as Idamante sits upon the throne of Crete, Alice Coote radiates the confidence and strength of a King as well as the anxious energy of an impatient bridegroom. Her other successful cross gender roles include “Sextus” (La Clemenza di Tito), “Emperor Nerone” (L’Incoronazione di Poppea), Sesto (Giulio Cesare in Egitto), and “Hansel” in Humperdinck’s HANSEL AND GRETEL with the Metropolitan Opera and recently broadcast on PBS.

As the fiery wannabe wife of Idamante and the progeny of the most dysfunctional family in all of Greek Mythology, soprano Iano Tamar is the ideal “Elettra”. Ms. Tamar makes her San Francisco Opera debut in a role she has performed with Vienna State Opera, Madrid’s Teatro Real, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and in Naples, Geneva, and Bilbao. She is conniving in the Act I aria, “Tutte nel cor vi sento” (“In my heart I feel you, Furies of bitter Hades”). By its conclusion, we know that her rival – the passive and willowy Princess Ilia (Genia Kühmeier) – hasn’t a ghost of a chance in this crazy romance. “Let her who stole that heart which betrayed mine”, she vows, “feel my fury and cruel revenge.” Alas, the gods dictate otherwise for the daughter of Hades. Iano Tamar is absolutely gorgeous in Elettra’s final aria of writhing jealousy and eternal self-pity. “Within my breast I feel the torments of Orestes and of Ajax; Alecto’s torch brings me death. Tear out my heart, you horned serpents, or a sword shall end my pain.” She exits in a fury. In some productions Elettra throws herself off a cliff. At the curtain call, Ms. Tamar received a shouting ovation.

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KURT STREIT (Idomeneo) and ALEK SHRADER (Arbace). Photo, Terrence McCarthy

A surprisingly impressive performance was delivered by tenor Alek Shrader in the role of “Arbace”, confidant to Idomeneo. A first year Adler Fellow, Mr. Shrader was previously seen in DIE TOTE STADT and will appear as “Nemorino” in the forth-coming production of THE ELIXIR OF LOVE (for Families). Two performances are scheduled for this condensed two-hour version of Donizetti’s sunny comedy set in the Napa Valley during the Jazz Age.
Click here to order your tickets on-line:
SATURDAY, November 8th, at 12:30 pm
SATURDAY, November 15th, 12:30 pm

Click on the date below to order your tickets to IDOMENEO:
TUESDAY, October 21st, at 8:00 pm
SUNDAY, October 26th, at 2:00 pm
TUESDAY, October 28th, at 7:30 pm
FRIDAY, October 31st, at 8:00 pm

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KURT STREIT – Mozart’s King of Crete

Add these recordings to your Classical Library:
DVD – KURT STREIT is IDOMENEO. A double DVD set, featuring Kurt Streit in the title role, from the Teatro San Carlo of Naples, Marco Guidarini conducting.
CD – IDOMENEO. Featuring Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Lisa Milne, Ian Bostridge, Barbara Frittoli, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Paul Charles-Clarke, Ian Page, Ursula Smith, John Relyea. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and Dunedin Consort.
CD – IDOMENEO. Featuring Placido Domingo, Carol Vaness, Frank Lopardo, Cecilia Bartoli, Thomas Hampson, Bryn Terfel, and Heidi Grant Murphy. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
DVD – IDOMENEO. Production designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Frederica von Stade, Hildegard Behrens, Ileana Cotrubas. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
CD – COSI FAN TUTTE. Mozart’s 1790 opera buffa featuring Kurt Streit as “Ferrando”, Cecilia Bartoli, Lella Cuberli, Joan Rodgers, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and John Tomlinson. Daniel Barenboim conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
CD – COSI FAN TUTTE. Featuring Kurt Streit as “Ferrando”, Hillevi Martinpelt, Alison Hagley, Ann Murray, and Gerard Finley. Simon Battle conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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