The 2006 Salzburg production of Idomeneo seems to me to be just about ideal. The production is clean and consistently interesting without ever getting too far away from the core story and the pretty much unbeatable cast is backed up by the period sensibilities of Roger Norrington and the Salzburg Camerata and Bachchor. The only fly in the ointment is the utterly heinous video direction.
The staging by Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann is fairly minimalistic. Basically a cube is erected around the orchestra pit to create a very bare room. From time to time, especially when the chorus is in play, the back wall is raised to allow the main stage area to be used. This too is mostly bare bar the occasional rock and a prop or two. Neptune, a silent character interpolated by the directors, is pretty much omnipresent; lurking and smirking his way through the action. Costumes are eclectic. Ilia gets a sort of smock over capri length pants plus, on occasion, a military great coat. It’s not flattering but it’s better than the potato sack Isabel Bayrakdarian was tied into in a COC production a few years back. Elettra gets a boobalicious red floor length party dress. Is this actually in the libretto because Elettra gets a dress like that in just about every Idomeneo? The guys all get some variant on a suit cum military uniform except for Neptune who gets the seashells and seaweed look. Idomeneo himself also gets a rather unfortunate crown that looks like it came out of a Christmas cracker.
With the stage spaces so bare a lot of the weight for making the piece work falls on the singers as actors. They are all, I think, good. Magdalena Kožená plays Idamante as a rather overwrought and perhaps slightly neurotic adolescent which seems fair enough. Ekaterina Siurina is cute and fairly straightforward as Ilia but the chemistry between the pair is very good and it’s easy to believe they are actually in love. Ramón Vargas is excellent as a conflicted and distraught Idomeneo and Anja Harteros pretty much steals the show as Elettra. What’s impressive is that she doesn’t do his by being utterly batshit insane from the beginning. She’s actually a very sympathetic, if somewhat manipulative, character in the first two acts and one feels that she would probably make a more interesting mate than the sappy Ilia, unless, of course, one were as sappy as Idamante! It’s only when she sees everything slipping aware from her that she snaps and, even then, we see madness and pain rather than murderous rage. It’s a hell of a performance.
It should come as no surprise that the singing is very good indeed. Siurina has a classic light lyrical soprano; bright and clear, and sings very prettily. Kožená manages to sound reasonably masculine. Vargas sings big, as seems to be normal in this role, and sounds very Italianate and almost Verdian. He gets some real vehemence into “Fuor del mar” for example. It’s quite exciting to listen to but maybe not terribly Mozartian. I couldn’t see, say, Michael Schade singing the role that way. And, again, there’s Harteros. I haven’t seen all that much of her but I think I get what the fuss is about. She can be extremely lush and beautiful but she can also sing with real venom as in “O Oreste, d’Aiace”. Very impressive. There’s also some good singing from Jeffrey Francis as Arbace with really rather lovely high notes. Norrington gets a very bouncy performance out of the orchestra and stops the thing becoming stodgy as it can tend to be.
So the performance on stage is pretty good but Thomas Grimm’s video direction is dreadful. He seems to have gone into panic mode at the thought of filming a fairly stripped down set so he goes frenetic. The camera angles are from all over, the close ups are many and he cuts between them with a busyness that makes Peter Jackson look laid back. It’s rare that we get much idea of what picture the Hermanns are trying to paint on stage and the role of the chorus seems to be very much downplayed. It’s a shame.
Otherwise the two disk DVD package is pretty good. The DTS surround sound is spacious and nicely balanced and the picture reflects its HD origins. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese and the booklet contains a track listing and a very short note on the work and production. There are a bunch of bonuses on disk 2. The most interesting is a short “making of” documentary but there are also trailers for several the of the M22 series recordings as well as the Peter Sellars films of the da Ponte operas