Opera review: Idomeneo, Palais Theatre

A striking co-production that draws on Greek mythology to offer hope for a new world.

This new production of Mozart’s Idomeneo marked what one can only hope will be an ongoing collaboration between Victorian Opera and Opera Australia. An opera seria, it drew on the mythology of the Trojan War with striking contemporary relevance.

Digitally-reworked images of lutuwita/Tasmania adorned the white walls of an intimate room, broken only by wide doors with neoclassical mouldings. While the use of projection can often feel gimmicky, here it found the right balance in combining old with new. It operated with perfect synchronicity with Mozart’s score to immerse the audience in the reign of a god, Neptune (Poseidon in Greek mythology), and hope for a new world, questioning the depths humans will go to in their desperation.

In Ilia’s opening aria Kathryn Radcliffe displayed her balletic range, mourning the loss of her family and home while challenged by her love for Idomeneo’s son, Idamante (Catherine Carby). 

Existing only in extremes, Elettra (Olivia Cranwell) shifted from euphoria to obsession with remarkable power. In the program notes, Conductor Benjamin Bayl noted he finds it ‘very difficult to single out any “hits” in this opera’, yet Elettra’s aria ‘D’Oreste, d’Ajace ho in seno i tormenti’ in the final act was a clear standout.

Steve Davislim masterfully transitioned between Idomeneo’s anguish as a father trying to spare his son’s life and his authority as King. In his interactions with Arbace (Michael Dimovski), he clearly demonstrated his indecision as a ruler with a crumpled torso and desperate pleas.

Some fluidity in the boundaries between recitatives and arias enabled emotional depth from both soloists and chorus, taking audiences seamlessly from the fallout of war to the people’s devotion to their King and Neptune’s gruelling retribution. The impact of the chorus was aided by the revolving stage and spatial arrangements highlighting their dwindling numbers.

Anna Cordingley’s costuming effectively conveyed status and temper. But while her modern twist can often add value, as in Amadeus for example, the khaki and glitter had little impact in this production.

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In the opening night performance, there was occasionally a disconnection between voice and music, and the music sometimes obscured the voice, though largely this was ironed out by the second act. Carby similarly lacked certainty in the first act, but grew stronger throughout. Her tone and carefully-timed glances in portraying Idamante’s dispassion for Eletta were particularly enjoyable.

Victorian Opera and Opera Australia
Palais Theatre, St Kilda, Melbourne
Conductor: Benjamin Bayl
Director: Lindy Hume
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Anna Cordingley
Lighting Designer: Verity Hampson
Video Designer: David Bergman
Cinematography: Catherine Pettman
Set Design Consultant: Richard Roberts
Cast: Steve Davislim, Catherine Carby, Kathryn Radcliffe, Olivia Cranwell, Michael Dimovski, James Egglestone, Simon Meadoes

Idomeneo was performed 4-8 July 2023.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.