The director's contemporary message is clear, and this take on Mozart's opera is shot through with references to our shared humanity under strain, to sea-borne refugees, to a chasm that divides a single people (this production opening at Garsington five days before the EU referendum), and to an Ebola-like plague. Albery's Idomeneo could be grim fare, in short, but the triumph of selflessness and compassion over misfortune and malice make for a more emollient outcome.
The Crete in which it is set could be any seafaring community, where townsfolk muck in when hostile weather or events demand, stoutly snug in woolly hats, oilskins and boots. In Hannah Clark's clear-sighted design, two sea containers punctuate the stage, one upright, and opening to reveal the modest living quarters of the captured Trojan princess Illia, Out of the other, half buried, stagger the prisoners of war; and into it, later, go the bodies of the plague-stricken dead.
It is hugely symbolic moment when Ilia, her love for her captor's son finally revealed and reciprocated by him, is sealed in their duet on top of her cell-like room, now an isolation ward, now a morgue, while toxic bodies are dolefully carried away. Love, in short, tops everything.
All of which could be a sideshow were it not for uniformly wonderful singing. Toby Spence in the title role, is a king of Crete shattered by his unwitting deal with sea-God Neptune which will cost him the life of his son Idamante. Now with added texture in the voice that suggests the patina of his charscter's wisdom and the bittersweet layering of increasing years, this is a fine and moving performance.
Mezzo-soprano Caitlin Hulcup as Idamante looks for all the world like a young Toby Spence, and has a lovely swaggering lower register in this trouser role. As Ilia, the fast-rising soprano Louise Alder sings sublimely – this is voice to listen out for at ever opportunity. Grief-stricken by losing Idamante to Ilia, Rebecca von Lipinski's Elletra stunned the first-night audience into silence with her virtuosic breakdown aria.
The quartet sung by father, son, and the two women, and bearing witness to the individual suffering of each, is spellbinding.
The terrific chorus and orchestra are impressive under Tobias Ringborg, a newcomer to the Garsington family, like Clark and Albery. The latter has a 20/20 eye for detail: the lights are extinguished in the container-cell as power is ceded to the next generation; lucky baby shoes left out to appease the angry god fail to please, and are swept into a bin bag.
When you want to hear every number again as soon as it ends and watch the drama unfold twice, to catch missed moments, it's the sign of a really cogent production brimful of ideas, packed with care.
|What||Idomeneo review, Garsington Opera|
|Where||Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate , Stokenchurch, HP14 3YG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Marylebone (underground)|
19 Jun 16 – 11 Jul 16, Times vary
|Website||Click here to book via Garsington|