Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Idomeneo, rè di Creta, opera, K. 366

    Description by Brian Robins

    Idomeneo, Mozart's first great opera, was the result of a commission from the Elector Karl Theodor of Bavaria. In 1778, the Elector had moved his court to Munich from Mannheim, where Mozart stayed nearly six months during his journey to Paris. By the time he commenced work on the opera in October 1780, Mozart, not yet 25, already had nine operas to his credit.

    The libretto chosen was not new, having already been set by the French composer André Campra nearly 60 years earlier; for Mozart's purposes it was revised by Gianbattista Varesco, a Salzburg chaplain. Set on the island of Crete, it recounts the legend of the return of the Cretan king, Idomeneo, to his homeland at the end of the Trojan War. Beset by a storm, Idomeneo promises Neptune a human sacrifice if he and his crew are saved. That the potential sacrifice turns out to be the king's own son, Idamante, becomes the central conflict of the drama.

    Idomeneo is often incorrectly termed an opera seria, a static, outmoded form which by Mozart's time had undergone considerable transformation at the hands of Jommelli and others. Although it retains certain elements of the style (da capo arias, for example) Idomeneo's extensive use of the chorus, flexibility, and strong sense of action betrays a strong sense of the libretto's French origins; this observation is underlined by the inclusion of tableaux of the kind that appear in the operas of Rameau and Gluck. The opera concludes with an extensive ballet, an essential component of all French opera, but then only recently introduced to Italian opera by reformers such as Traetta.

    One of the great glories of the work is the orchestration. Mozart obviously relished writing for the large and outstanding orchestra attached to the Elector's court, many of whose members had formerly belonged to the Mannheim orchestra, the finest in Europe. The score he produced includes pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons along with four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, and strings; it is the richest of all his operatic scores, and it drew contemporary criticism for being "too much filled up with accompaniments."

    Dramatically, too, Idomeneo shows a marked advance on the traditional opere serie Mozart had composed in Italy less than a decade before. That he had now become a complete man of the theater is shown in a remarkable correspondence with Varesco, who remained in Salzburg after Mozart had gone to Munich to work with the singers. The letters show Mozart not only tailoring the arias to the needs of his singers, as was customary, but also acutely aware of what would and would not work dramatically.

    Idomeneo was given its first performance at the Residenz Theater on January 29, 1781; the spectacular staging was particularly praised in the sole contemporary account that was preserved. The opera was not taken up elsewhere, doubtless in part due the demanding orchestral writing, but also because its mixture of Italian and French styles was confusing to contemporary expectations. Mozart did adapt and revive the opera in Vienna in 1786, but Idomeneo has had to wait until the twentieth century to be fully accepted into the repertory.


    1. Overture. Allegro
    2. Quando avran fine omai l'aspre sventure mie
    3. No. 1 Padre, germani, addio!
    4. No. 2 Non ho colpa, e mi condanni
    5. No. 3 Godiam la pace, trionfi Amore
    6. No. 4 Tutte nel cor visento
    7. No. 5 Pietà! Numi, pietà!
    8. No. 6 Vedrommi intorno... Spietatissimi Dei!
    9. No. 7 Il padre adorato
    10. No. 8 March
    11. No. 9 Nettuno s'onori!
    12. No. 10 Se il tuo duol, se il mio desio
    13. No. 11 Se il padre perdei
    14. No. 12 Fuor del mar ho un mar in seno
    15. No. 13 Idol mio, se ritroso
    16. No. 14 Odo da lunge armonioso suono (March)
    17. No. 15 Placido è il mar, andiamo
    18. No. 16 Pria di partir, o Dio!
    19. No. 17 Qual nuovo terrore!
    20. No. 18 Corriamo, fuggiamo quel mostro spietato
    21. No. 19 Zeffiretti lusinghieri
    22. No. 20 S'io non moro a questi accenti
    23. No. 21 Andrò ramingo e solo (Quartet)
    24. No. 22 Se cola ne' fati e scritto
    25. No. 23 Volgi intorno lo sguardo, o Sire
    26. No. 24 O, o voto tremendo!
    27. No. 25 March
    28. No. 26 Accogli, o rè del mar
    29. No. 27 No, la morte, la morte io non pavento
    30. No. 28 Ha vinto amore... a Idomeneo perdona
    31. No. 29 D'Oreste, d'Ajace
    32. No. 30 Popoli! a voi l'ultima legge
    33. No. 31Torna la pace al core
    34. No. 32 Scenda Amor, scenda Imeneo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 ZYX Classics CLB 10272
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon B002346910
    2015 Walhall WLCD 0172
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791044
    2011 Archiv Produktion
    2011 Decca
    2011 EMI Classics
    2010 Classics & Jazz / Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4779111
    2010 Preiser Records 93469
    2010 Dacapo 6.220586-89
    2010 Naxos 660250-52
    2010 Decca
    2010 Glyndebourne 006-64
    2009 Harmonia Mundi 902036.38
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781600
    2008 Decca 0743258
    2008 Philips 4646602
    2007 BRV 9806
    2007 ABC Classics 4766350
    2006 Arts Music 43063
    2006 Philips
    2006 Ponto 1044
    2005 Warner Classics 4623312
    2005 Decca 475 7041DM3
    2005 Brilliant 92540
    2004 Chandos CHAN3103
    2004 Opera D'Oro 7011
    2003 Brilliant 99738
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 57260
    2002 Symposium 1274/75
    2002 Opera D'Oro 1340
    2001 Urania 182
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73848
    2000 Philips 464 910-2PB9
    1999 Opera D'Oro 1191
    1999 London / London 411805
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447737
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 447 662-2GX3
    1991 Philips 422537
    1991 Archiv Produktion 431674
    1991 Philips / Philips
    1991 Philips 422545
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 4298642
    1988 Decca 411805
    Verona Records 28010@13
    Brilliant 92633
    Verona Records 27038
    Philips Classics 420130
    Brilliant 99738/1-3
    Kultur 4514
    Teldec 35547