Opera: Tenor Matthew Polenzani ‘washes ashore’ at the Met in Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’

Richard Carter

Blasting News

Once I’m onstage, I’m in Idomeneo’s head, and he’s only got room for one prayer: to figure out a way to keep his son alive."

#Opera commentary on a 236-year-old aria is what you rightly expect from #Everything Music and Theatre, and it will brace you for Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Mozart’s early masterpiece “Idomeneo, rè di Creta” (Idomeneus, King of Crete), which opens March 6. American tenor #Matthew Polenzanigave Blasting News a hint of what happens while performing an aria di bravura, in this case, Idomeneo’s great Act II “Fuor del mar,” an expressive number of wildly conflicting thoughts and emotions, conveyed in energetic, rapid-fire musical passages. Mozart wrote literally thousands of notes for the orchestral score of this six-minute piece—643 notes for the tenor’s vocal line alone—and expected the tenor to pack in dozens more of his own at places indicated in the score. Dizzy yet? Hold on tight.

Opera aria text

The aria’s poetic Italian text totals only 44 words. They assess Idomeneo’s heart being awash as something deadlier than shipwreck, which he barely escaped, having been washed ashore. He taunts Neptune, calls him ‘implacable’ and ‘fierce god,’ and asks “If my heart is so close to shipwreck, what doomed destiny now forbids it to flounder?” (Translation mine.) So what’s going on?

Opera context

Idomeneo had been off fighting the Trojan wars. About to perish, he called on Neptune and swore an oath to this effect: ‘Get me out of this alive, and I’ll sacrifice to you the first person I see when I arrive at my home port.’ (How kind, eh?) So who does he see when his battered ship gets him ashore? His own son, Prince Idamante, who doesn’t recognize him—so long have they been apart. Now what to do? Well, Idomeneo stews about it, royally. By the time Act II is underway, he can hold back no longer.

Opera in Mozart’s masterful hands

“Fuor del mar” is daunting. Minor cuts are sometimes taken, or a production may use an alternative edition with just under 400 notes for the tenor. Matthew Polenzani, when asked if he has to say a little prayer before tackling it, says: “Once I’m onstage, I’m in Idomeneo’s head, and he’s only got room for one prayer: to figure out a way to keep his son alive.”

Richard Carter – Blasting News

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