For love’s sake

The Israeli Opera presents a new and exciting production of ‘Idomeneo’ by Mozart.

‘Idomeneo’ by Mozart.  (photo credit: COURTESY ISRAELI OPERA)
‘Idomeneo’ by Mozart.
Operas tend to come with intricate narratives – especially the more serious ones. Love triangles are a common theme, a betrayal or two, and, more often than not, there is a slow, anguished death somewhere in the plot.
As complex operatic story lines go, Idomeneo is a leading contender for the proverbial biscuit. Mozart’s work, which premiered in January 1791, takes in an Italian-language libretto, which, in fact, is an adaptation by Giambattista Varesco of a French text by Antoine Danchet.
There is just about every dramatic trick in the trade in there. You have war, politics, a sea monster, demons, the obligatory romantic ménage à trois, and a pact with a divine being which almost leads to tragedy – almost.
In short, the eponymous King of Crete returns home after years of doing his bit in the Trojan Wars. When his ship falls foul of a life-threatening storm, Idomeneo promises Neptune – the sea divinity – that, should he be spared, he will sacrifice the first person he meets after making it to shore, to Neptune. Unfortunately, his first terra firma encounter, following his rescue, is with his own beloved son, Idamante.
Just to spice up the already manifold tale a little more, the latter falls in love with a princess called Ilia who just happens to be the daughter of King Priam of Troy. Naturally, that is a totally non-PC development as far as the Cretans are concerned, while the princess is torn between her feelings for Idamante and the fact that her beau’s dad slaughtered most of her own family.
Oh, in case that wasn’t adequately convoluted, Princess Elettra, daughter of Agamemnon, King of Mycena who fought alongside Idomeneo, also fancies Idamante.
YAEL LEVITA, who shares the role of Ilia with fellow soprano Hila Baggio, is delighted to be on board the production originally devised by Danish stage director Kasper Holten, with the visuals of the forthcoming run of nine shows at the Israeli Opera House (January 20-31) overseen by revival director Niv Hoffman.
“The rehearsals are very intensive, and it is quite different from anything I have experienced [in opera] before,” says Levita. “This is a serious opera, in its essence. There is no comic relief, or intermezzo, or a character which provides some comic aspect.”
Even so, all’s well that ends well, and, by and large, the opera finishes on a high for a few of the central characters. “Yes, there is a happy end for my character and for Idamante, the son of the returning king. It’s a kind of happy end, but it’s very dramatic, too.”
The prospect of Idomeneo killing his own son, in order to make good on his bargain with Neptune, is horrifying. It, naturally, conjures up thoughts of the biblical story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac. Happily, both offspring are ultimately spared, but Levita says she brings the high emotion, all the parties concerned must experience, to her performance.
“There is a tough love story in there [between Ilia and Idamante]. She says ‘I lost everything. I lost my family and I fell in love with the son of the murderer of all my family.’ That is difficult. In order to feel that, I connected with the Holocaust,” she adds. “My grandmother was in Auschwitz, and my grandfather on the other side of the family was with the partisans. They are both the only survivors of their families.”
Idomeneo may have some powerfully emotive themes, but Mozart’s score, which feeds off French Baroque sentiments, helps to smooth the spectator’s way through the challenging story line.
The opera also demands some audience participation. There are no sing-alongs, but much of the narrative is inferred, so spectators have to complete the picture themselves.
Levita says Hoffman has taken that into consideration. “He steers clear of overdramatization, because the story is so dramatic anyway. He wants us to use as realistic body language as possible, without pathos. I have to make sure I am not overdramatic. We have to focus more on the psychological level. I think that was the original intention of the director, to combine the story with the psychological level.”
That, says Levita, entails an emotional and performance juggling act. “We have to keep it ‘minor,’ but what we do on stage has to be appropriate for the grand setting of an opera house. We have to strike the right balance.”
There may be no onstage visual pyrotechnics, but there is ne’er a dull moment in this most appealing of Mozart’s operatic ventures.
For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and