Matthew Polenzani, the Royal Opera’s Idomeneo

Mark Valencia

What's On Stage

The American tenor and scion of the New York Met is back in town to sing Mozart.

“It’s not your Mom and Dad’s Idomeneo” declares Matthew Polenzani over our handshake, “but you can track the story from beginning to end. You don’t need pages of notes in the programme to understand what Martin’s trying to do.”

The American tenor is straight down to business, galvanised by his work even after a strenuous day’s rehearsal. The Martin he refers to is Austrian director Martin Kušej, and it’s no secret that his ideas for Mozart’s opera are likely to prove controversial. The Royal Opera’s own notes warn us that in his production “Idomeneo is a tyrannical ruler, who rather than being controlled by the gods makes use of the idea of them to prevent his son establishing a more liberal regime”.

If Mozart’s being rewritten, though, Polenzani seems unfazed. “It isn’t set in a specific time. The dress is modern but the set is very spartan and the crux of the opera is a little different from what we normally see. Idomeneo himself is kind of like Tony Soprano! I’ve started to work out how to delve into the character – it’s a learning experience.

“Working with Martin and Marc [Marc Minkowski, the conductor] has been very amiable, and we have a lovely cast full of good people to be around. The director has encouraged us to challenge him in order to help us understand how to get to where we’re going. And people have said that it’s riveting – you will be entertained!”

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Image: Catherine Ashmore