William Christie, the celebrated early-music specialist, brought Les Arts Florissants to the Mostly Mozart series on Wednesday for an enterprising account of a daunting opera seria, Idomeneo. The conductor, it was anticipated, would enforce period logic, his merry band playing antique instruments and his diligent chorus modelling 18th- century manners. The authorities promised a “semi-staging”, whatever that means. The central singers could be expected to meet their arduous challenges displaying equal parts bravado and sensitivity. This Idomeneo, one had reason to hope, would be stylish, dramatic, virtuosic, festive. No such luck.
The most satisfying contribution came from the orchestra, which played bravely and brightly if rather monotonously. The chorus sounded strained under pressure, and Christie, working with his back to the cast, seemed more concerned with momentum than emotion. Even more surprising, he minimised Baroque discipline, slighting expressive accents and florid ornaments.
Elsa Rooke, credited with theatrical direction, contributed little beyond fussy entrances, awkward exits and self-conscious poses for principals clad in evening attire. We have seen greater drama at many a party where the guests play charades.
Still, all might not have been lost if Christie had engaged some bona-fide vocal paragons. At least this could have been a grand night for singing. No such luck.
In place of giants, we got wimps. Simulating the tortured, aggressive King of Crete, Paul Agnew sounded pallid and hoarse, his artful tenor several sizes too small. As his son, Idamante, Tuva Semmingsen introduced a monochromatic mezzo- soprano that evaporated at the lower depths. Portraying the sweet princess Ilia, Claire Debono slighted Mozart’s crucial call for serenity, avoiding soft dynamics, flatting at the top and chopping the line for breath. Violet Noorduyn tended toward shrillness and misplaced modesty in the violent outbursts of Elettra. Carlo Vincenzo Allemano sounded gruff and gritty as Arbace. We have heard better singing at many a workshop in ambitious academia. ★☆☆☆☆
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