Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante, K366 – Dramma per musica in three acts to a libretto by Giambattista Varesco adapted from a French text by Antoine Danchet [Vienna version; sung in Italian]
Ilia – Gundula Janowitz
Idamante – Luciano Pavarotti
Idomeneo – Richard Lewis
Elettra – Enriqueta Tarres
Arbace – Neilson Taylor
High Priest of Neptune – David Hughes
Voice of Neptune – Dennis Wicks
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recording on 14 August 1964 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, UK
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: July 2010
CD No: GLYNDEBOURNE
GFOCD 006-64 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 21 minutes
It is important to put this 1964 Glyndebourne “Idomeneo”, recorded at a public performance, in context. It captures an evening during the fifth (and final) revival of a production originally staged at the Sussex opera-house in 1951 – astonishingly, the opera’s first professional performances in Britain. In the popularity stakes, most opera fans know and love this rich and vibrant product of a 25-year-old Mozart, who was rapidly reaching the peak of his powers. That it is now an important part of the operatic mainstream owes much to this pioneering Glyndebourne production.
“Idomeneo” has been well-served on recordings in recent years. Those who are familiar with excellent complete recordings by Gardiner (Archiv), Levine (DG), Mackerras (EMI) or Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi) need to be prepared for the fact that this Glyndebourne account fits comfortably onto two CDs instead of the usual three. The most obvious casualty of the heavily cut Vienna version of the score is poor Arbace (sung here by Neilson Taylor), who loses both his arias. Recitatives are pared throughout, and the ballet music is entirely lost (arguably no great shame from a dramatic point of view).
Another surprise may arise from hearing Idomeneo’s son Idamante sung by a tenor – here Luciano Pavarotti making his first, and last, Glyndebourne appearance. Written for a castrato, Idamante is usually sung nowadays by a mezzo-soprano in its Munich incarnation, but the young Pavarotti’s virile account in this Vienna version offers much to enjoy, and it is certainly less confusing for listeners to hear the role played by someone of the correct gender.
If the cuts and the tenor-voiced Idamante are insurmountable travesties, then this release is not for you. But I suspect that many listeners will secretly welcome its comparative brevity; and I would strongly urge others to bear with its non-Urtext approach because, on the whole, this is a terrific performance that captures the authentic life and spirit of this great work.
John Pritchard, who had originally played harpsichord continuo with Fritz Busch conducting, here assumes command, while continuing to accompany the recitatives. His grasp of the opera is remarkably fresh and incisive. Occasionally, such as in the flabby account of Ilia’s first aria, it does lack momentum, but, most of the time, Pritchard’s direction is stylish and brings out the score’s rich colours, aided by some wonderful playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra (this was the LPO’s debut-season at Glyndebourne, and the players seem delighted to be there). The wind section is particularly vibrant: such characterful solos in Ilia’s sumptuous Act Two aria, ‘Se il padre perdei’, for example.
Besides Pavarotti, who can sound a little uncomfortable in the Mozartean idiom but who is aptly forthright and makes an impressive sound, the cast features another big name that was all-but-unknown in 1964: Gundula Janowitz. Even then her creamy voice is unmistakable. Some may yearn for more emotional depth in her portrayal of Ilia; others will be perfectly satisfied with her radiantly beautiful delivery.
The title role is taken by the accomplished tenor Richard Lewis. Lewis had created the role for this Glyndebourne production. Exhibiting an attractive and fluid tone, he comes across with great dignity and commanding presence – if lacking Italianate flair.
The decent, though boxy, mono sound is clear and atmospheric. Compared with Pritchard’s 1956 studio recording with Glyndebourne forces for EMI, one of the most appealing aspects of this set is its vivid sense of theatre. It is a ‘live’ performance in the truest sense of the word, and certainly not error-free, but its conviction and fidelity are compelling. An invaluable document of a milestone, albeit a flawed one, in the modern renaissance of Mozart’s first operatic masterpiece.