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11 February, 2000

Idomeneo, an opera seria by WA Mozart

Sydney Opera House

Fri 11 Feb 2000

Dear Colleagues,

I have a confession to make. I walked out at half time. Yes, despite a competent orchestra, a world-class conductor (Christopher Hogwood), a world famous opera which does not need my approval (Idomeneo), excellent principal roles and a 'lovely' traditional production, I just had to go.

The audience included Joan Sutherland (a one-time Elettra), Richard Bonynge, their fine friend Chester, Bronwyn Bishop our minister for the Queen's Navy, Donald McDonald, Olympics festival organizer, Adrian Colette, opera general manager as well as a coterie of hangers-on. But I could not bear another minute.

It started at 7pm and was diabolical. Even with a large papered audience it was still 3/4 full on a Friday night which not a good sign for the budget. I sat next to a young English tourist for whom it was his first exposure to opera. He may never return to the opera house so long and 'difficult' was the night. What a pity he could not see the beautiful Pearlfishers for which there were no seats to be had this week.

I used to classify Idomeneo with Clemenza di Tito but they are chalk and chinoiserie. One is Mozart's debt to the past and the other is his gift to the future. And I am the first to admit that my patience ends at archaeology. Those who stayed for the rest of the performance deserved everything they got (and I am sure it was fine).

[Outside the theatre tonight was the opening salvo of the Sydney Mardi Gras, held on the steps of the opera house, quite a contrast to what was going on within. A free drag show, à la belle étoile!]

At least in act one, I can report that Deborah Riedel sang Elettra well, as did Emma Matthews and Kirsti Harms as Ilia and Idamante. John Mark Ainsley was an elegant Idomeneo. Jaewoo Kim sang Arbace with conviction. The chorus, Trojans and Cretans, were excellent, yet the night did not catch on for me so I hastened to our local Italian restaurant for consolation and sustenance.

By 9.30pm I was enjoying a bowl of sweet potato gnocchi with chicken and Gorgonzola washed down with a fine Vernaccia in Victoria Street.

By the way, I heard the Pearlfishers again this week and American tenor David Miller again sang and acted to the highest calibre. He made an intriguing change at the very end of 'Je crois ententre' in which he left out the final highest phrase, replacing it with one single legato note which seemed to go on to eternity. He must not have felt confident with the written notes, although his opening night had been flawless. It must be one of the most difficult arias ever written for the tenor voice. This ending was in no way inferior and it was just one change in a tighter and more held-together performance of this rarely heard opera.

Is my prejudice (or petticoat) showing? See you at the Met Ring in April.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..