Idomeneo, usually regarded as Mozart's first mature opera, a masterpiece, and a work quite often performed in other parts of the world, has not been heard in Budapest since 1993. All the more credit must go to György Vashegyi, current bastion of early music performance in Hungary, who (re)introduced this unfairly neglected work to the Budapest public with a riveting performance.

Emőke Baráth © Zsófi Raffay
Emőke Baráth
© Zsófi Raffay
It only feels fitting to start by singing the praises of the Orfeo Orchestra and the Purcell Choir, and above all, Vashegyi. Conducting with brisk, energetic tempi without ever rushing and paying great attention to his soloists, he drew the very best from his ensembles and did justice to the marvellous score of the opera. The Orfeo Orchestra played with a bright, vibrant sound that delighted in joyous, peaceful moments and thrilled when it came to the frenzy and horror, fully living up to the dramatic moments of the score. The same can be said about the Purcell Choir that made the most of the many choral parts of the opera, filling the concert hall with their warm, homogeneous sound.

Ramón Vargas gave an uneven performance in the role of the wretched king. The darkened timbre and trumpet-like sound of his voice felt appropriate for the more declarative, commanding passages, but he sang all too rigidly, with little use of dynamics or connection to the text. In “Fuor del mar”, he was noticeably short on breath, having trouble with the coloratura and very unstylishly interpolated some high notes.

Unstylish delivery and lack of dramatic involvement characterized Margarita Gritskova's singing as well. While some singers managed to ornament their arias tastefully, Gritskova used it to show off her voice. Hers is certainly a very impressive instrument: a highly appealing dark, sumptuous timbre, even from top to bottom and a rock-solid technique, tackling the most demanding parts of the role with ease, but her diction made the text sound more like Russian than Italian and her apparent detachment from the character prevented her performance from being truly outstanding.

No such things can be claimed when it comes to the two sopranos, Emőke Baráth and Serena Farnocchia. Making her role debut as Ilia, Baráth sang her opening aria with some nervousness, but came to her own entirely afterwards, giving a touching performance that provided many of the musical highlights of the evening. Her sweet, crystalline soprano shone radiantly in Mozart's music, especially in a ravishing “Zeffiretti lusinghieri”.

Serena Farnocchia's Elettra was, thankfully, no scenery-chewing madwoman. Portraying the jealousy and fury of the scorned princess, Farnocchia was always credible but never over the top. Her strong, round voice contrasted well with Baráth's, and she thrilled in her arias, especially in a tempestuous “D'Oreste, d'Ajace” that brought down the house.

In the role of Arbace, Bernhard Berchtold's voice felt a touch too small, but his singing was sensitive and highly stylish, and he handled the difficult arias of Arbace effortlessly (although the inclusion of “Se colà ne' fati è scritto” felt entirely unnecessary). Zoltán Megyesi and Krisztián Cser gave very solid performances as the High Priest and the Oracle of Neptune.

All in all, a more than satisfying performance of a great opera: one can only hope that the Hungarian State Opera will take note of its success and Idomeneo shall not have to remain on the fringes of the repertoire for much longer.