The current Idomeneo at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre marks an important moment in the career of Lisa Milne, who sings Ilia. She has been heard several times before in Mozart, notably as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Zerlina in Don Giovanni. In these roles she seemed a slight artist, using her essentially lyric voice as a vehicle for shallow sentiment and clowning.
Ilia is a different proposition entirely. She is a character who moves from simple sadness to emotional domination, from the periphery to the centre of the action; and she needs to encompass strong projection, inwardness of feeling, fluent coloratura, dramatic realism. Milne proved that she could do all these things, making the most of her admittedly light soprano to suggest a pathetic youngster who, step by step, realises her power over those around her.
At the very start, the aria "Padre, germani" revealed a breadth and fire that was something new for this singer, with pearly top notes that shaded into silence. "Se'l padre perdei", in Act 2, was exquisite, with mellow and shadowy wind solos, paced steadily by the conductor, Antoni Ros Marb. This quiet sublimity reached its height in Act 3, where Marb's stealthy and discreet tempo turned the quartet into a profound meditation, and Milne's rapid tiny roulades glistened rhythmically. Hers was an almost ideal performance, marred only by a habit of leaning forward at the hips as though she had a fit of the sulks.
The most recent Scottish discovery, Claire Rutter, who shone as Violetta in Traviata, was on this occasion miscast as Elettra. Her almost disembodied, divinely floated tone lacked the venom for the angry femme fatale, and her final outburst seemed redundant. Toby Spence presented Idamante as an eager boy, with a strongly focused, nervy tenor that contrasted with the gesturing intensity of Thomas Randle (Idomeneo).
The framework for this young cast was provided by a very young producer, David McVicar, who also designed the minimal set. His ideas were mostly good, and above all they were unobtrusive. Stage movements were deftly managed, using visual events to mark both dramatic and musical changes. Costumes were black, white and red, the chorus wearing frocks and suits that were vaguely Victorian - it could have been Chekhov - on an empty stage dominated by a huge classical mask. With so few distractions, the scene of Idamante's threatened sacrifice had a kind of earnest truth that swept one up into the pathos and suspense. And at no time were these young prodigies tempted merely to go over the top - except perhaps for that intolerable show-off, the 25-year-old composer.