Idomeneo | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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It's often said that Mozart wrote four and a half operatic masterpieces. The half, for many commentators, is the wistfully entertaining Abduction From the Seraglio; but in my book it's Idomeneo, the poignant and musically expressive tragedy he composed at age 25. Taken from Greek mythology, it's the story of a king of Crete, Idomeneo, who in a moment of need promises his son's life to the gods. (The tortuous relationship that ensues between father and son may have reflected Mozart's own with his stern yet solicitous dad, Leopold.) Perhaps the biggest flaw in the opera--a hybrid that sounded the death knell for the overly precious genre of opera seria--is the ponderous Italian libretto, which tends toward pronouncements rather than revelations of character. But the music is another matter altogether: it conveys the emotional ups and downs so vividly that words seem superfluous. Idomeneo is not served well when singers take on noble postures and miss the music's subtle psychological shifts, and the two productions I've seen (one on PBS) bordered on turgidity. I hope the Lyric Opera's staging--only the second one in its history--avoids these pitfalls. Certainly it has assembled a top-notch cast for the job: lyric tenor Vinson Cole merits comparison to Placido Domingo (who'll take over for him in the title role in November's subscription-only performances); interestingly, in his previous Idomeneo outing he played the virtuous son, Idamante. The Lyric's Idamante (traditionally a trouser part) is Vesselina Kasarova, the Bulgarian mezzo-soprano whose ravishing voice is already the talk of Europe--her recent CDs hold the promise of an Idamante for the ages. Mariella Devia portrays Ilia, the good-hearted princess, and Carol Vaness is Elettra, her tempestuous rival for Idamante's affections. John Nelson, an opera veteran who made his latest mark interpreting Henryk Gorecki's elusive choral works, conducts. Saturday, Wednesday, and next Saturday and Tuesday, October 25 and 28, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Vinson Cole photo by Christian Steiner/ Vesselina Kasarova photo-uncredited.

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