Katie Mitchell’s production for the ENO grew on me as the evening went on, but the thought did arise watching the grand beige minimalist mid-century modern hotel lobby that masquerades as the Palace of King Idomeneo that updating opera productions to weird and wonderful times and locations (the Dr Who approach, if you like) has become too easy a default setting for modern producers.
Set designers Vicki Mortimer and Alex Eales do it well, but the minimalism is skin deep - the production presents multiple complicated sets (there’s an airport with executive and cattle class lounges; the palace garden becomes a screening room), with ambitious set changes for the backstage crew in between. Loud clunks and bangs from behind the fire curtain heralded the arrival of the final scene.
It would almost be more original going back to basics and doing an Idomeneo with authentic 18th-century costumes. The original Idomeneo Anton Graaf had a fantastic rococo fantasy of a costume. Can you imagine the sea monster? It can’t be right to do a production where the traditional (and let’s face it, scripted) sea monster does not appear. But alas, exact mid-century modern equivalents for sea monsters were not available to the designers, and the monster was cut (the interval crowd at the ice cream stall was highly indignant). In mitigation, the ENO does a truly memorable storm scene.
The orchestra led by Edward Gardner and the chorus were absolutely superb. I enjoyed all the leads too, with special honours to Emma Bell as the spoiled, seductive and insane Princess Electra.
English National Opera
Coliseum 18 June - 19 July 2010