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Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante (Italian for Idomeneo, King of Crete, or, Ilia and Idamante; usually referred to simply as Idomeneo, K. 366) is an Italian language opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was adapted by Giambattista Varesco from a French text by Antoine Danchet, which had been set to music by André Campra as Idoménée in 1712. Mozart and Varesco were commissioned in 1780 by Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria for a court carnival. He probably chose the subject, though it might have been Mozart.

The libretto clearly draws its inspiration from Metastasio and its overall layout, not to mention the type of character development which Metastasio had developed and mostly from the highly poetic language used in the various numbers and the secco and stromentato recitatives. The style of the choruses, marches, and ballets was very French, and the shipwreck scene towards the end of Act I is almost identical to the structure and dramatic working-out of a similar scene in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride. The sacrifice and oracle scenes are similar to Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide and Alceste.

Kurt Kramer has suggested that Varesco was familiar with Calzabigi and therefore the work of Gluck, especially the latter's Alceste; much of what we see in Varesco's most dramatic passages is the latest French style, mediated by Calzabigi. It is thanks to Mozart, though, that this mixture of French styles (apart from a few choruses) moves away from Gluck and France and returns to its more Italian (opera seria) roots; the singers were all trained in the classical Italian style, after all, and the recitatives are all classically Italian.

It was first performed at the Cuvilliés Theatremarker of the Residenzmarker in Munichmarker on 29 January 1781. Written when the composer was 24, Idomeneo was Mozart's first mature opera seria, and with it he demonstrated his mastery of orchestral color, accompanied recitatives, and melodic line. In certain respects (e.g., the choirs), however, this opera is still an experimental drama, resulting more in a sequence of sets than in a well developed plot. Mozart also had to fight with the mediocre author of the libretto, the court chaplain Varesco, making large cuts and changes, even down to specific words and vowels disliked by the singers (too many "i"s in "rinvigorir").

Idomeneo was performed three times at Munich, and later in 1781 Mozart considered revising it to harmonise it with Gluck's style. This would have meant a bass Idomeneus and a tenor Idamantes, but nothing came of it. A concert performance was given in 1786 at the Auersperg palace in Vienna, and as well as changing Idamantes from a castrato to a tenor, Mozart wrote some new music and cut out other parts.

In the late 1920s, Richard Strauss began working on a revised version of Idomeneo. This version premiered in 1930 and boasted a completely different libretto by Lothar Wallerstein. Strauss cut much of Mozart's score replacing it with some his own compositions. He also rearranged the order of the musical numbers and changed name of the character of princess Electra to the priestess Ismene. Critics have noted that Strauss' additions to the opera contain an odd blend of the classical style of composition and Strauss' own characteristic sound. In 1984, the Mostly Mozart Festival presented Strauss's version of Mozart's Idomeneo with Jerry Hadley in the title role, Delores Ziegler as Idamantes, and Alessandra Marc as Ismene.

Today Idomeneo is part of the standard operatic repertoire. There are several recordings of it (see below), and it is regularly performed.


Woodwinds: brass: Percussion Strings

Continuo in recitatives


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 29 January 1781

(Conductor: Mozart)
Ilia, daughter of King Priam of Troy soprano Dorothea Wendling
Idomeneo (Idomeneus), King of Crete tenor Anton Raaff
Idamante (Idamantes) , son of Idomeneo soprano castrato, later rewritten as tenor Vincenzo dal Prato
Elettra (Electra), Princess of Argos soprano Elisabeth Wendling
Arbace (Arbaces) , Idomeneo's confidant tenor Domenico de' Panzacchi
High priest of Neptune tenor Giovanni Valesi
The voice of the Oracle of Neptune bass
Two Cretan women soprano and mezzo-soprano
Two Trojans tenor and bass


Act 1

Island of Cretemarker, shortly after the Trojan War. Ilia, daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam and taken to Crete, loves Prince Idamante, son of Idomeneo, but she hesitates to acknowledge her love. Idamante frees the Trojan prisoners in a gesture of good will. He tells Ilia, who is rejecting his love, that it is not his fault that their fathers were enemies. Trojans and Cretans together welcome the return of peace, but Electra, daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon and jealous of Ilia, does not approve of Idamante's clemency toward the enemy prisoners. Arbace, the king's confidant, brings news that Idomeneo has been lost at sea while returning to Crete from Troy. Electra, fearing that Ilia, a Trojan, soon will be Queen of Crete, feels the furies of Hades tormenting her.

Idomeneo is not lost at sea, but instead is saved by Neptune (god of the sea) and is washed up on a Cretan beach. There he recalls the vow he made to Neptune: to sacrifice, if he should arrive safely to land, the first living creature he should meet. Idamante approaches him, but because the two have not seen each other for a long time, recognition is difficult. When Idomeneo finally realizes the youth he must sacrifice for the sake of his vow is his own child, he orders Idamante never to seek him out again. Grief-stricken by his father's rejection, Idamante runs off. Cretan troops disembarking from Idomeneo's ship are met by their wives, and all praise Neptune.

Act 2

At the king's palace, Idomeneo seeks counsel from Arbace, who says another victim could be sacrificed if Idamante were sent into exile. Idomeneo orders his son to escort Electra to her home, Argos. Idomeneo's kind words to Ilia move her to declare that since she has lost everything, he will be her father and Crete her country. As she leaves, Idomeneo realizes that sending Idamante into exile has cost Ilia her happiness as well as his own. Electra welcomes the idea of going to Argos with Idamante.

At the port of Sidon, Idomeneo bids his son farewell and urges him to learn the art of ruling while he is away. Before the ship can sail, however, a storm breaks out, and a sea serpent appears. Recognizing it as a messenger from Neptune, the king offers himself as atonement for having violated his vow to the god.

Act 3

In the royal garden, Ilia asks the breezes to carry her love to Idamante, who appears, explaining that he must go to fight the serpent. When he says he may as well die as suffer the torments of his rejected love, Ilia confesses her love. They are surprised by Electra and Idomeneo. When Idamante asks his father why he sends him away, Idomeneo can only reply that the youth must leave. Ilia asks for consolation from Electra, who is preoccupied with revenge. Arbace comes with news that the people, led by the High Priest of Neptune, are clamoring for Idomeneo. The High Priest tells the king of the destruction caused by Neptune's monster, urging Idomeneo to reveal the name of the person whose sacrifice is demanded by the god. When the king confesses that his own son is the victim, the populace is horrified.

Outside the temple, the king and High Priest join with Neptune's priests in prayer that the god may be appeased. Arbace brings news that Idamante has killed the monster. As Idomeneo fears new reprisals from Neptune, Idamante enters in sacrificial robes, saying he understands his father's torment and is ready to die. After an agonizing farewell, Idomeneo is about to sacrifice his son when Ilia intervenes, offering her own life instead. The Voice of Neptune is heard. Idomeneo must yield the throne to Ilia and Idamante. Everyone is relieved except Electra, who longs for her own death. Idomeneo presents Idamante and his bride as the new rulers. The people call upon the god of love and marriage to bless the royal pair and bring peace.

Noted arias

  • "Non ho colpa", Idamantes in Act I
  • "Padre, germani, addio", Ilia in Act I
  • "Il padre adorato", Idamantes in Act I
  • "Tutte nel cor vi sento", Electra in Act I
  • "Vedrommi intorno", Idomeneo in Act I
  • "Fuor del mar", Idomeneo in Act II
  • "Idol mio", Electra in Act II
  • "Se il padre perdei", Ilia in Act II
  • "Se il tuo duol", Arbaces in Act II
  • "D'Oreste, d'Ajace", Electra in Act III
  • "No, la morte", Idamantes in Act III
  • "Se colá ne' fati è scritto", Arbaces in Act III
  • "Torna la pace", Idomeneo in Act III
  • "Zeffiretti lusinghieri", Ilia in Act III


DVD recordings

2006 controversy

For the controversy surrounding the performances in 2006 at the Deutsche Oper Berlinmarker of a 2003 production directed by Hans Neuenfels, see Idomeneo .

See also


External links

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