Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui | © Jeroen_Hanselaer
Photo: Jeroen Hanselaer

Director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on Idomeneo

1 March 2024

This is your first time directing a Mozart opera. What appeals to you in particular about his Idomeneo?
“First and foremost, the subject matter. It’s about a king who refuses to hand over power and relinquish his position, even if it means he runs the risk of sacrificing his son and endangering the future of generations to come. I find this story, which is part of the mythology of the Ancient Greeks, fascinating. In a sense, the ancient myths don’t have a moral as such; instead, they follow the principle of action and reaction, demonstrating that what we do always has consequences. Tragedy invites us to put aside our judgement and to ask questions that go further than what is good and evil – these are confronting questions that make us reflect on what we would do if we were in the same position as these characters.”

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

“Myths are like mirrors held up before us”

Greek myths refer to events long ago and their origins are often unknown. What meaning do they have for modern-day audiences?
“The stories are like mirrors held up before us. They present the kind of conflicts that still tear apart our world today. On the surface, they deal with supernatural events in a world populated by unreal beings – or rather, beings from beyond the reality we are familiar with. Take the monster that attacks the kingdom of Crete in Idomeneo for example. The attacks and bombings we see in the world today are no less monstrous. I can’t imagine sitting down to a meal with Neptune, but a character like that can help us reflect on current issues and ask ourselves about our place in the world as humans. These beings teach us that there are invisible, unwritten laws and if we violate those laws, we will put ourselves – and the generations to follow – at risk of disaster because these problems are passed down through time. These myths appeal to a deep sense of responsibility.”

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

“Dance reveals the invisible ties connecting the characters to one another”

As a choreographer and director, dance plays an important part in your productions. What role does dance play in Idomeneo?
Mozart’s opera is populated by spirits: the killings of the Trojan War weigh upon the present in the form of a past that will never go away. The characters are trapped in a history that isn’t theirs, like Idamante and Ilia, who fall in love after Idamante’s father has wiped out Ilia’s people. Dance has the unique ability to visualise absence. It reveals the invisible ties connecting the characters to one another and to a past that holds them prisoner and that they must break free of.”

Text: Simon Hatab / Luc Joosten

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who hails from Belgium, has achieved worldwide recognition as one of the most innovative directors and choreographers of his generation. He previously directed the operas Les Indes galantes (2016) and Alceste (2019) for Bayerische Staatsoper, Satyagraha (2017) for Theater Basel and Pelléas et Mélisande (2018) with Damien Jalet and Marina Abramović for Opera Ballet Vlaanderen.