The English Touring Opera: Idomeneo Review

Storyhouse, Chester – 16 March 2019.

Reviewed by Kate Hughes


The English Touring Opera, directed by James Conway, brought their interpretation of Idomeneo to the Storyhouse in Chester this week.

Idomeneo, from Mozart’s ‘Opera Seria’ is based on material from ancient history and tells the story of King Idomeneo of Crete, his son Idamente and the two princesses vying for the affections of Idamente – exiled Trojan princess Illia and Elettra, princess of Argos.

Returning from the Trojan war and caught in the middle of a raging storm, King Idomeneo makes a pact with the seas that he will sacrifice the first person he meets in return for safe passage. The first person he happens to meet? His only son, Idamante, secretly beloved by the exiled Trojan princess Illia and not so secretly beloved by Elettra, princess of Argos.

Idomeneo is a tale of family drama and the cost of war on the younger generation. The rivalry between the princesses and Idomeneo’s ill-fated promise give the opera a rich emotion and the ETO’s set designer Frankie Bradshaw opts for a set design that is minimal and does not distract from the richness and drama of the music. The angled doors are the focal point of the stage design, acting as the austere palace walls which are opened and closed as the opera goes on, to reveal the contrasting danger of the seas.

Christopher Turner was well suited to the title role, offering a commanding presence and a voice dripping in emotion and fire, allowing the audience to truly feel the heartbreak and inner torture of Idomeneo as he realises the fate to which he has led Idamante. A special mention should also be given to Paula Sides as the princess Elettra, a figure from Greek mythology and tragedy, born into the cursed house of Atreus. We see this tragedy come to a head when Elettra sings D’Oreste, d’Ajace, thwarted in both love and ambition and driven mad, delivered in a truly impassioned performance by Sides. John Peter Kenney and his fantastic orchestra, as well as the chorus added depth and weight to the already strong performance.

Overall, the English Touring Opera’s offering of a ‘fuss free’ Idomeneo in terms of staging and costume sometimes felt a little rough around the edges. However the simplicity of everything but the singing allows the audience to truly appreciate the drama of the story and the voices and is something a little different from the operas usually offered to smaller theatres. Idomeneo is running until 1st of June this year at theatres around the country and is well worth a visit.