Last year was my first Salzburg Festival experience and I was already excited for 2019. This year's festival theme was myths; you can read from here the details of the festival programme. Mozart's Idomeneo was the opening performance of the opera programme. Peter Sellars's production had sounded really interesting and gave me high hopes. Just a quick googling gave away the major idea behind the production: climate change and global warming. Wow. I like this kind of big ideas, it makes you appreciate the piece in a whole other way.
Global warming and Idomeneo. You can say 'no way' when you first hear, but actually it makes sense to connect an opera that has sea monsters, angry wheather conditions with the enviromental problems we're facing: climate change and global warming. It is a great way to get our attention to nature since we still discuss wheather it's happening or not while we are facing the hottest summer ever in Europe. But Peter Sellars didn't think just about the sea monsters, he also think about the generations: Idomeneo tried to help his son Idomente but actually end up hurting him. The young generation also needs the older generation to act on the climate change. In the programme notes, there are some quotes across the universe from young activists that ask older generation (politicians and more) to act. Older generation thinks they doing the best they can but actually they keep destroying the planet that their children supposed to live. This can be related to Idomeneo & Idomente's relationship. Another great point. Bravo.
With these information in mind, I enjoyed the performance. Seeing Idomeneo getting Neptune angry is just like our generation couldn't keep their promise to protect the nature and left an unlivable world behind. However, without these information, I have doubts that the audience made this connection. Let's dig in!
Russell Thomas was the star name of the cast. It was very special to hear him live, but due to his age, he was not at his best, especially after the first act. Ying Fang was a really successful Ilia. But Nicole Chevelier impressed me the most at the premiere. Especially her last aria was completely impressive, I felt her rage in me.
We're in the Felsenreitschule, there is no curtain on the stage, so we saw the George Tsypin's set before the performance begin. There are some big plastic balloon type wastes above the stage. The setting was impressive, especially the lighting. Let's assume everyone in the audience read the programme notes and get the reference.
My expectation of the global warming references were really high. I expect there to be waste storms on the when sea monster attacked, I expect the people suffer from extreme heat/cold etc. This led to disappointment, because there were no other reference other than the setting. You just need to get the idea behind it with the waste on the stage, and that's it.
Ilia and other prisoners wear orange pyjamas, Idamente and others wear blue pyjamas. I didn't understand why Idomente, an acting king, was wearing pyjamas; or the same uniform with the prisoners and the people. Elektra was wearing normal clothes: dress, jacket etc. Is it because she's not belong to either sides? Couldn't say I liked the costumes that much, I will get to the detail as the plot advances :)
Since the three characters are on the stage at the same time (normally they don't suppose to), the storyline didn't make sense for me. Elektra witnessing Idomente and Ilia's talks, Idomente keeps hugging Elektra for no reason, then Elektra gets mad suddenly (and you think why she waited that long to get mad). A very small detail, but really irritated me. Idomente, a castrato role played by a soprano, was really feminine, I don't know if it's by choice, she kept hugging and touching everyone's faces thru the opera, I hope it was intentional but it was really confusing.
The big plastic wastes on the stage were impressive but I don't think they did all the job to this big reference. It was obvious that they had no other point, they had to move around the stage just to clear a space to choir or other things. Some went to side stage, some got lifted to the above. There were some tubes that come from the ground time to time; sometimes it has red lights (when Elektra was mad), sometimes they act like a sea (when Idomeneo comes from the sea). Also, there were two yellow columns appear when Idomeneo first encounters with the choir. For me, they didn't represent anything particular, but Peter Sellars claimed that they are Atlantis in one of his interviews. Atlantis, really? Who would say they were Atlantis? Appearently, only stating in an interview is enough to convince the audience in 2019. These columns got bigger, and than the first part of them flew above the stage while the second part disappears to the ground. Great visual effect but it didn't contribute to the story for me.
In the second act, Ilia came with a jean and t-shirt, Idomente stayed in his pyjamas, Idomeneo came with a military uniform. Idomente being his own prisoner? Ilia is now a free person? But she was freed at the first scene? She didn't time to change clothes then? No, not a really big fan of costumes this time.
Some other thing that I din't quite like was unfortunately the coreography. Other than Idomente being so feminine and touchy, in arias singers made some ridiculus symetrical coreography that consists of circling their hands, putting their heads down etc. that just made me laugh. It didn't go with the storyline or the big, important and serious point that production trying to make. Even the love stories seem unrealistic with the gestures for me.
And the finale ballet! I think this was the most shocking part of the opera for everyone. Idomeneo pave the way for Idomente to rule the country, Ilia and Idomente are together, Elektra just died (and they kept hugging Elektra while she was cursing :)) and Lemi Ponifasio puts to the stage an ava ceremony by the troupou. Of course I know that now, but when I was watching, I saw a woman dressed like a bride come to stage and some men from a far away island dance very angrily. I didn't get anything. Bride eventually went and gave Elektra a hand to join the applause ritual. Now I read that those dancers are from a Pacific Island that is endangered due to rising water levels. Well that connection was pretty much impossible to understand during the performance if you're not a fan of troupe dance :)
Overall, I adored and appreciated the idea of linking Idomeneo with enviromental issues. But how did they do that? My only answer is the plastic waste on the stage. (and the trailers, interviews and well designed programme notes). They did much work writing about it than showing it on the stage. When you read the programme notes, it affects you. But I would rather be impressed after the performance, not after I read about it later. What do you think?
P.S. This year's Salzburg was the hottest summer moments in Europe for me, and while we're seeing the performance, it started to rain heavily. Neptune was definitely agreed with the creative team that it is time to act.