Idomeneo is not the favorite Mozart opera of many Mozart lovers. The music is glorious, of course, but there's a stolid quality to the drama that makes a brilliant production necessary to engage the audience's ears, whereas even a mediocre production of Don Giovanni can be riveting. This production is so far from brilliant that it became an historic first for me: the first Mozart DVD I've ever turned off without finishing. In fact, I couldn't even last long enough to hear Peter Pears sing the title role; that's probably fortunate, since it spares me from having to evaluate the beloved Pears in a role that suited him dubiously.
What's wrong with this production?
1) The 'edition' prepared by and conducted by Benjamin Britten seizes every opportunity to make the music turgid. It sounds like Wagner with "too many notes." The tempi are gruesomely slow and any rococo sprightliness has been expunged in keeping with the late-Romantic performance ideal of grandeur and gloom.
2) Heather Harper is a hideous harridan in the role of Ilia, a Brunnhilda miscast. Her voice is painfully brassy and her technique is blatty. And then we get Anne Pashley in a comic absence of "trousers' as Idamante, with a thin voice and even thinner thespian talents.
3) They sing it in English! The famous imperial chastisement of Mozart for writing "too many notes" would have been appropriate if it had been "too many words!" Well, not really, not in the original Italian, where the rhythms of speech fit the notes of the recitativo gracefully. The words of this English translation jostle Mozart's musical structures like hogs in a truck being carried to market.
Is that enough? In any case, you, dear shopper, would be insane to but this single DVD when currently you can get the whole six-production Britten-Pears Collection in a single box for the roughly the same price. That collection includes three of Britten's own operas - all well worth hearing and watching - Britten's orchestration of John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" filmed in black-and-white and absolutely superb both musically and dramatically, and a dour disaster of a filmed recital by Pears of Schubert's "Winterreise" song cycle.