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Dramma per musica in three acts
Libretto by Giambattista Varesco
First performance January 29 1781, Hoftheater, Munich
This production first opened March 17 2013
Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Background The story begins after the end of the Trojan wars in Kydonia, a port on King Idomeneo’s island of Crete. Now that the Greeks have finally taken Troy, the return of King Idomeneo and his fleet is eagerly awaited by his son Idamante, the Mycenean King’s daughter Elettra and Trojan King’s daughter Ilia. Elettra fled to Crete after the collapse of her family: her mother Klytemnestra killed her father Agamemnon, then her brother Oreste killed their mother. Ilia is one of the Trojan prisoners of war on Crete. Elettra and Ilia love Idamante: Elettra imperiously, Ilia, at first, secretly. The Prince is already engaged to Elettra. Reports about Idomeneo’s fleet are inconsistent: will the King manage to get home or will he and his warriors drown? ACT I Ilia's tortured by the conflict between her hate for the Greek victors and love for Idamante, the enemy. Idamante rescued Ilia from a storm at sea. It was love at first sight for them both. Idamante confesses his love and assures Ilia that he's not to blame for her fate. Ilia remains guarded. Before Idomeneo gets home Idamante – as a sign of peace – frees the Trojan prisoners. Idomeneo’s confidante and adviser Arbace brings news: the King is dead. Distraught, Idamante hurries to the shore. Elettra, convinced that Idomeneo, the only supporter of her plan to marry Idamante, is dead, summons her demons. Neptune saved Idomeneo from a storm at sea, but only on condition that he promise to sacrifice the first person he meets on land. It is Idamante. Idomeneo is horrified. Idamante cannot understand why his father rejects him. The people rejoice at the warrior’s return, giving thanks to Idomeneo and Neptune, little knowing that destruction threatens at his hand. ACT II Arbace tells Idomeneo that the only way he can avoid having to sacrifice his son is if he lived somewhere else. He and Elettra will be sent far away, to Mycenea. The King realises that Ilia and Idamante are in love. Idomeneo’s own feelings of love for Ilia increase the monarch’s anguish. Only Elettra feels optimistic: she's sure she'll manage to win Idamante’s love during the long journey. Their departure is prevented by Neptune. The frightened people flee. ACT III Ilia seeks refuge in solitude. Idamante tells her that the only way he can escape the conflict between his love for her, a Trojan woman, and his duty to his people is to end his life. Ilia, horrified, confesses her love for him. Idomeneo and Elettra interrupt: Idomeneo orders Idamante to depart alone to escape his fate. In vain. Neptune brings death and destruction. Neptune’s priest and the people demand that the King carry out the due sacrifice. Now, for the first time, Idomeneo announces that it is Idamante he must sacrifice. No matter how dreadful this is, it must be done. Idomeneo prepares to kill his son. Idamante is led to the sacrificial altar. Ilia offers to take his place at the last minute. A voice is suddenly heard announcing that the power of love has pacified Neptune and Idomeneo must hand the throne over to Idamante, to rule with Ilia as his Queen. Elettra, realising that all her hopes have been destroyed, loses herself in the world of her demons. The people celebrate their new rulers, Ilia and Idamante.
The father, and King, Idomeneo is supposed to sacrifice the first person he meets on land, his son, in return for Neptune sparing his life, but he can't do it and fate ordains that they become rivals for the throne and same woman, Ilia, the imprisoned daughter of the Trojan king. The characters in Idomeneo are left at the mercy of emotional hot and cold baths, moving in situations that border on the existential. Supernatural powers are at play, forcing the ruler to realise his guilt, publically admit it and abdicate in favour of his son. Mozart's score bubbles over with ideas, revealing new colours, facets and characteristics, bar for bar. The courage and dramatic energy in his music confirm that Idomeneo was the turning point between the works of his youth and mature creative phase. Jan Philipp Gloger's production shows an Idomeneo who must do battle with the darkest depths of his soul more than the god of the seas.