Idomeneo

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Glyndebourne Touring Opera at Norwich Theatre Royal

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Mozart heads the bill for Glyndebourne's season at the Theatre Royal in Norwich, not with one of his comedies, but something far more demanding. Set in the age of Greek myth, Idomeneo offers music of wondrous sophistication and invention with a plot of sustained, not to say unrelieved, seriousness.

Under Kenneth Montgomery, the orchestra brings out all the riches of a score that evokes changing situations. The large chorus is impressively sonorous, and the splendid soloists are given every chance for vocal prowess in a sequence of display arias.

Director Peter Sellars' contribution is, as he intended, more controversial. At times his praiseworthy desire to do different has odd consequences. "We must go!" cries the chorus in Italian, with the super-titles flashing out the translation. So everybody promptly falls down on stage and waits there until the curtain drops.

Although (or is it since?) Idomeneo usually calls for seascapes and classical palaces, Sellars prefers to set the action in a curious scarlet worm-like funnel. Ritual, a theatrical device for which this opera provides great scope, is plainly not this director's cup of tea either.

Every one of the strong emotions in the libretto is emphasised with extravagant gestures. Some of them reflect the pattern of the music, though it is often hard to decipher the gymnastic semaphore. As the soloists crumble, and grasp at their abdomens whenever tensions mount, it seems we are in the realm of gut reactions.

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This isn't exactly dignified, any more than all the rolling around on the floor. But, then, Sellars does not go in for heroic dignity.

His aim is to convey each psychological twist and turn as powerfully as he can, while taking side swipes at contemporary America. It makes an intriguing mixture.

Peter Bronder sings magnificently as the anguished King, Julianne de Villiers is a lithe Idamante, and Andrew Foster-Williams overcomes his appearance to sound authoritative as Neptune.

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