On Tuesday, July 19, Carmel Bach Festival 2016 presented Mozart’s Idomeneo in a special adaptation for Sunset Center Theatre. Conductor Paul Goodwin began the orchestral overture with a sense of drama, energy and vision that enabled the opera to unfold in a magical way right from the very first note. Because of the brilliant playing of the orchestra members, the overture instantly began to reveal dynamic, melodic and rhythmic motives that symbolize the colorful characters in the ensuing plot. Mozart’s drama delves into unresolved human conflicts, which troubled Ancient Greeks as much as they continue to trouble contemporary man today. Love, hate, jealousy, duty and honor dominate this opera, and the manifestation of these qualities involved the listener from start to finish.
Strings, brass, timpani and woodwinds each had their brilliant moments, and these stirring moments set up the soloists and chorus later during the development of the plot — with the splendid musicians continuing to respond to the encouragement and vision of Paul Goodwin for the duration of the performance. How does a conductor achieve this? A partial answer might be the dramatic vision of Paul Goodwin, who has a natural ability to encourage instrumentalists and singers to reveal their musical instincts and gifts to the listener. Since Goodwin also has a great understanding of the elegant details unique to Mozart, we observed numerous examples of singers and instrumentalists at the top of their form.
Ms. Mhairi Lawson sang the role of Elettra with distinction. Although her dramatic role required exhibitions of jealousy and rage, she never permitted the dramatic intensity of the role to interfere with her vocal mastery. Mr. Goodwin seemed to know the soloists’ entrances so well that he appeared to be completely instinctive when moving from recitatives to arias and then to ensemble work. He was also careful never to let the orchestra overpower Ms. Lawson’s pure light tone.
The role of Idomeneo sung by Thomas Cooley was brilliant, especially since several of his arias are easily some of the most challenging in the tenor repertoire. His physical stamina, coupled with his masterful musicianship allowed for an impressive delivery, especially in some challenging melismatic passages. It was an impressive accomplishment.
Meg Bragle sang the role of Idamante with warmth, color and a dramatic flair that lit up the stage. Her ensemble work was stunning. Never overpowering the other singers, she molded her phrasing and personality to enhance both musical and dramatic effects. In the quartet Andro ramingo e solo, her singing was once again dazzling. This quartet was easily one of the musical highlights of the opera with the singers and orchestra both sharing the stage with musical elegance.
In the role of Illia, Clara Rottsolk sang easily and her soaring rich beauty of tone was a delight for the ear. The singers in the quartet added much to the effectiveness of the entire performance. The listener was left wanting to hear more from La Voce sung by Jonathan Woody and Gran Sacerdote sung by David Vanderval. The supporting roles were carefully selected to solidify the high standards of the evening’s performance. It was a thrill to hear the chorus reflect upon the drama and activity with their unified understanding of extreme tempi and musical comments. It was obvious that choral conductors John Coza and Andrew Megill, had meticulously prepared for every entrance and the difficult tempi of the chorus.
David Gordon’s understated demeanor conveyed to the audience historical perspective, artistic conflict and subtle insights. In his tone, character and choice of words he revealed his love and great knowledge of opera.
Paul Goodwin presented us with an opera performance without the traditional lighting, costumes and staging. He gave us an opera performance where we were swept away by the outstanding musicians and singers of the Carmel Bach Festival. We were left with a full heart and gratitude for a very memorable evening at the Sunset Center in Carmel. This was a highlight of the festival.