Promising young South-African director Alessandro Talevi opened the new season at the Teatro La Fenice with a new mis-en-scène of Mozart's Idomeneo, rè di Creta. Even though this production was characterised by a polished musical execution and a few cuts (especially on the recitatives), it never really took off.

Reading Talevi’s essay in the programme note, everything seemed interesting and correct. Idomeneo was composed for aristocrats belonging to the royal entourage of Munich. The characters were thus expected to possess the noblest of virtues: magnanimity and wisdom (Idomeneo), courage (Idamante, who fearlessly faces death, if it can just help placate Neptune’s ire), dignity under misfortune and imprisonment (Ilia).

Talevi intended to show the characters in their motives and attitudes of tormented evolution, especially connected to the difficulty – but at the same time inevitability – of change: Talevi did not want to represent them as static in their nature. The tempest and the general chaos provoked by Neptune are all a metaphor of the necessity for change: first of all, Idomeneo, the King, must be replaced by his son Idamante. Things must change and this is part of the natural cycle, as established by the Gods.

Talevi mentions the complicated relationship between father and son and also the difficult integration between natives and foreigners. However, it was in practice all mixed up in an unclear sequence of strange and clumsy ideas. For example, at the very beginning of the opera, when Ilia laments her dismal condition during the first scene, ancient paintings are shown through a veil while Cretans are flirting in the background. Moreover, the banquet organised to celebrate Idomeneo’s return, is a kitsch ‘spaghettata’. Costumes are a mix of long ancient Greek tunics, dreadlock hairstyles and sportswear clothing, in a string of woven references to antiquity and modernity, without transmitting any clear, strong or lucid idea.

Thanks to Jeffrey Tate, the limpidity of Mozart’s music resounded through the Teatro La Fenice’s golden walls. It was masterful conducting, full of all the Apollonian clarity and splendour of this 18th century masterpiece, without neglecting the pathos and the Dyonisian power of moments such as Elettra’s aria “Tutte nel cor vi sento” or the chorus “Qual nuovo terrore” or the sombre expressivity of Idamante’s “Non temer amato bene”. The Orchestra and the Chorus (well instructed by Claudio Marino Moretti) of the Teatro La Fenice were in praiseworthy shape. An always beautiful, mellow and homogenous sound came from the synergy between orchestra and chorus.

Brenden Gunnell was a charismatic Idomeneo, both on stage and through his singing. He showed a beautiful timbre and an extended volume, considering the difficult part, especially in the higher register. Monica Bacelli was an admirable Idamante, well identified in her part and always accurate in the phrasing and in chiselling her voice. Ekaterina Sadovnikova depicted Ilia’s development well, from a fragile and despairing prisoner to an implacable lover, ready to sacrifice herself for her love. Michaela Kaune's diction was perfect as Elettra, although her intonation was not always precise at some passages.

What a missed opportunity for Alessandro Talevi, who meanwhile has just directed another opera, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo.