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Pittsburgh Opera director re-imagines Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’

Mark Kanny
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From left: The cast of Pittsburgh Opera’s “Afterwards” includes Caitlin Gotimer (Elettra), Antonia Botti-Lodovico (Idamante), Ashley Fabian (Ilia) and Terrence Chin-Loy (Idomeneo).

The quality of the music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is astonishing, but so too is the volume of music he managed to write down during his 31 years of life.

The complete edition of works runs to 132 volumes. He wrote many dozens of symphonies, concertos and sonatas, plus vast arrays of chamber and religious music. But he loved writing opera more than anything else.

“The first of Mozart’s seven mature operas is ‘Idomeneo,’” conductor Glenn Lewis says. “It is one of the last great examples of ‘opera seria,’ which dealt with mythology and historical themes.”

Pittsburgh Opera will present “Afterwards: Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ Reimagined” on Jan. 26, 29, Feb. 1 and 3 at the intimate theater in Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts magnet school.

A new version

Director David Paul conceived the version of Mozart’s opera that Pittsburgh Opera is presenting.

“I love certain scenes and arias from ‘Idomeneo’ tremendously. I think they are exciting and profound,” he says. “But obviously it’s a very long piece (3½ hours uncut). Because of that, the intensity and thematic depth is watered down in the full-length version because it’s harder to sustain.”

Paul’s version dispenses with themes of Greek mythology and Greek fate to focus on the four protagonists in this story set in the aftermath of the Trojan war.

Ilia is a Trojan princess washed up on the shore of the Greek island Crete after a storm. Idamante, who rescues her, is the son of Idomeneo, the king of Crete. Elettra is the daughter of another Greek king who is in love with Idamante.

The four roles will be sung in the original Italian by Pittsburgh Opera resident artists.

The director points to the opera’s first scene as an example of the opera’s originality and power.

“It is one of the most unique pieces of music Mozart ever wrote. It’s constantly switching from ‘secco’ recitative (with harpsichord and cello) to recitative with strings or full orchestra, before switching back. Then suddenly we’re in an aria,” he says.

Emotional journey

Paul notes Ilia’s first words are, “When is it going to end?” She’s not only endured the loss of her family and defeat of her country, but has barely survived a storm at sea.

“The opera starts at the pinnacle of an emotional journey,” he says. “The rawness of the emotion is unparalleled — survivor guilt, wanting to exact revenge on behalf of her family and love for the man who rescued her. It’s wild and tumultuous, such an unusual start to the opera.”

Paul, in addition, was motivated in his work by the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, as a way to make the opera relevant to current political events. Ilia’s costume is inspired by contemporary Syrian attire.

He calls the show “Afterwards” to make clear it is not the original “Idomeneo.”

“The focus of the Mozart original to a certain degree, and ours to a larger degree, is how when war is done there is so much left afterwards that it’s as hard, if not harder, to resolve emotionally,” Paul says. “That’s what this piece puts the lens on.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review
contributing writer.