Standing on the Precipice

2018 Idomeneo

I’ve done a bad job of writing about this amazing Mozart opera that opens on Friday at The Barns. Truth is, all of the conversations worth having about it are long-form. And life hasn’t given me long form opportunities in the last couple of weeks. Instead I offer pictures. Worth 1,000 words, as they say.

There’s a lot to say, and if you come to one of my preshow talks, I promise I will say the best of it. As I hear and re-hear Idomeneo in this tech week, I’m struck by the way it encapsulates not just the 25-year-old Mozart, but the essence of this company.

As an opera seria, Idomeneo traffics primarily in old-school forms and structures, but they are stretched almost to the point of breaking by the creativity of a composer who is coming into his maturity and who has more to say than they will allow. And as he stretches them, they crack, and the light gets in. (Thank you Leonard Cohen.)

And all of a sudden you hear glimpses of the magic that Mozart was about to create in the next ten years of his short life. The entwining of Ilia’s and Idamante’s voices foreshadows Fiordiligi and Dorabella.  The ground-breaking quartet lays the groundwork for the masterful ensemble writing in the Figaro finale. The supernatural declaration of the Voice feels like a sketch for Giovanni‘s Commendatore. And the fear-fueled tragic chorus in Act 3 spins out into the heartbreaking phrases of the Requiem.

Why does this resonate here, particularly? Every year I witness a parallel phenomenon in the artists who form our company. They come to Wolf Trap with techniques and talents well-developed and codified by their academic training and their indoctrination in the young artist program world. They’re usually super good at doing what they’re told and staying out of artistic trouble – the equivalent of wedging their artistic voices into a rigid opera seria mold.

And then at some point, often on our watch at Wolf Trap, they begin to stretch. Like the 25-year-old Mozart (well, actually, no one is really like the 25-year-old Mozart, but the analogy is no less valid…) they begin to break the molds, and we catch glimpses of who they will become. At that is the point of what we do.

Come to Idomeneo.

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