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Mozart's Idomeneo This week on The Lyric Stage

In 1780 Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria, wanted a new opera for a court carnival, and Mozart and his librettist Giambattista Varesco got the job. The commission was a big opportunity, but there were conditions. Theodor wanted an Opera Seria, the style that dominated much of the 18th century, more or less in the elevated classicist vein of Gluck. Mozart certainly complied, while making the “opera seria” style his own.

The premiere of “Idomeneo,” in Munich in 1781, took place two days after Mozart’s 25th birthday. It was his 12th opera.

Idomeneo, the king of Crete, returning victorious from war with Troy, encounters a storm that threatens his fleet. In return for safe passage, he vows to Neptune to sacrifice to the sea god the first person that he sees upon arriving ashore. When that person turns out to be his son, Idamante, Idomeneo sends Idamante away, hoping to avoid his pledge to Neptune.

A complication is Idamante and a Trojan prisoner, the princess Ilia, are in love. Elettra, herself a princess in exile also loves Idomente. Of course, breaking a vow to a god is just not done. Peeved at Idomeneo, Neptune sends a monster to ravish Crete. Idomeneo slays the monster and offers himself instead of his son as the sacrifice to Neprune, as, indeed, do Ilia and Elletra, But an oracle intervenes and everyone lives happily ever after.

Felicity Palmer and Simon Estes head the cast, and Nicholas Harnoncourt conducts the Zurich Opera Chorus and Orchestra.