The apex of the Mozart marathon at Kilkenny Arts Festival was a concert performance of his first great operatic masterpiece, Idomeneo, last heard in Ireland in 1956.
This style of presentation, like an oratorio, has the advantage of focusing all attention on the musical elements without the distraction of any fussy visuals.
The Homeric plot is taken from Greek mythology. A storm at sea threatens Idomeneo’s return to Crete after a decade at the Trojan War. He vows to sacrifice the first human he comes across on land to appease Neptune. When this turns out to be his son, the king is torn.
The only puzzle coming away from St Canice’s was why we don’t hear it more often. It is packed with great arias, ensembles, dramatic choruses, and a lively score.
The singing is excellent, led by a thrilling performance by tenor, Gerard Schneider plucked from relative obscurity of studies at Julliard to step in for indisposed John Mark Ainsley. Looking like a young Pavarotti, Schneider has an imposing stage presence with a vivid range of colour and warmth of tone that compels attention. Only a ferocious coloratura aria produced a few wrinkles.
Hell hath no fury like a Grecian princess scorned and I almost expected Rebecca von Lipinski as Elettra, a spitfire in scarlet gown to go up in a puff of smoke in her vengeful exit aria.
Anna Devin as Trojan princess Ilia and Rachel Kelly as Idamante were expressive, evenly matched voices that produced some of the finest duets of the evening. Andrew Gavin was clear voiced as Arbace.
The Resurgam choir sang with style and attack with Ciaran Kelly and Tristan Caldwell stepping forward in the roles of High Priest and the Voice of Neptune.
With the woodwind beefed up to include four horns, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, under director Christian Curnyn, played with elegance and vivacity whether conjuring up storms or adding gentle support in serene moments.
Tonight is the last chance to hear this masterpiece for who knows how many more years.
Grab it if you can!