The humanists who created the first operas in late sixteenth-century Florence hoped to recapture the emotional impact of ancient Greek tragedy. It would take nearly another 200 years, however, for the most powerful aspect of Attic drama— the chorus—to reach its full potential on an opera stage. That moment arrived with Mozart’s 1781 opera Idomeneo, re di Creta. This September, Opera San José performed Idomeneo’s sublime choruses with thrilling clarity and force, in a striking new production of the opera that wedded a philanthropist’s archeological passion with his love for Mozart. San José’s Idomeneo was a reminder of the breadth of classical music excellence in the United States, as well as of the value of philanthropy guided by love.

In 1780, the twenty-four-year-old Mozart received his most prestigious commission yet: to...


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