By Robert Beale
Buxton Festival: Idomeneo / Alcina
Buxton Opera House
July 13, 2010
The highlight event of the Buxton Festival so far – for me – has been the concert performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo, in Richard Strauss’s version of 1931.
It boasts the starriest line-up of soloists of any of the festival operas, but it is simply a concert, and if there is a minus point it’s that some of them stand and sing their notes with little attempt at acting – the honourable exceptions being a highly dramatic Mary Plazas (Ismene), and a moving Rebecca Ryan (Ilia) towards the end.
The great plus point is that this is an extraordinary hybrid of two composers’ thoughts, 150 years apart. It’s not just a free, modern-instrument transcription of ‘early music’ (Mozart wasn’t in that category anyway in 1931) – it’s Mozart as respectfully, and rather whimsically, adapted by Strauss.
‘Mozart with whipped cream’, one wag had it – it’s certainly a Wiener Mélange, and just as tasty.
Its great glory, which takes you by surprise even though you know it’s coming, is the glorious quartet-and-chorus finale Strauss composed, in his own richest style, to go just before Mozart’s ending. But there’s sly humour, too – not least in the first major dollop of Straussian Schlagobers, which describes the appearance of a monster from the deep (and is followed by some creamy delights for the soloists).
One of the charms of Andrew Greenwood’s presentation of the work is that he was working with the Northern Chamber Orchestra in pretty well its usual numbers – not the massed ranks of the Vienna Philharmonic – which enabled him to offer us the unalloyed Mozart (and there’s plenty of that) with all the vim and clarity it should rightly have. But when it came to the finale, his sense of shape and pace for a very different sound was excellent, too.
It needs singers of versatility, and for the same reasons. With Jonathan Lemalu (High Priest) joining the ensemble for the last act, there was a rich underpinning to the quartet, and Victoria Simmonds (the ‘trouser’ role of Idamantes) was capable of adapting to differing contexts well.
Paul Nilon (Idomeneo) brought his characteristic earnestness and power to his task, with his finest hour in act two.
The combined chorus of the festival opera and Buxton Madrigal Singers was magnificent, and the NCO whipped up their storm well, too.
Repeated on 17th July and 23rd July