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Idomeneo, K. 366

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra Heinz Fricke, conductor/Christine Brandes, soprano Jan. 13 - 15, 2005
© Richard Freed
Untitled Document

“Zeffiretti, lusighieri,” from Idomeneo, rè di Creta , K. 366. Idomeneo , Mozart's first truly great opera, served as a dramatic turning-point in his life. His prolonged absence from Salzburg to supervise the rehearsals and premiere precipitated his final rupture with his employer the Prince Archibishop Hieronymus von Colleredo, and his move to Vienna. Since the work is far less familiar to today's audiences than the later masterworks composed in Vienna, a summary of the action might be in order here:

To survive a storm at sea on his way home from his victorious war in Troy, King Idomeneo of Crete pledges to sacrifice to Neptune the first living thing he encounters upon arrival. This turns out to be his own son, Idamante, who is loved by both the captive Trojan Princess Ilia and Princess Elettra of Argos. To evade his vow to Neptune, Idomeneo orders Idamante to escort Elettra to her homeland, but before they can leave, a powerful storm descends upon Crete and then a monster terrifies the people, who regard these events as punishment for some offense to the gods. After Idamante (who by now has acknowledged his love for Ilia) vanquishes the monster, Idomeneo's vow is made known and Idamante offers himself as the pledged sacrifice in order to preserve his father's word. Now, however, Neptune's voice is heard, declaring that instead of the sacrifice, Idomeneo is to abdicate in favor of his son, who ascends the throne with Ilia as his queen.

In the opening of the last of the opera's three acts, Ilia is alone in the royal garden, under the impression that Idamante has left Crete on his errand to Argos. She muses on her situation: the absence of her beloved relieves her of the need “to keep silent and pretend,” but she implores the gentle winds to carry her message of adoration to him. (Following this aria, Ilia is surprised to find Ilia in the garden, and their dialogue begins the unraveling of Neptune's curse and the movement toward the happy resolution.)