Well, I’ve been waiting nearly 20 years for this! When studying my A Level music we delved deeply into Ludwig Van Beethoven’s symphonies, and thus started a great appreciation of his music and I’ve listened to much of his work since then. However, his only opera, Fidelio, was something I’ve always wanted to experience live without listening to any of the music or even knowing what the chosen text was for it.
Thankfully the wonderful Opera North added Fidelio to their 2010-11 season and after being very excited all week (more than usual in the week leading up to an Opera North performance) I had high expectations. Well, I am pleased to report that my expectations were exceeding many times over!
For a start, the actual work is incredible. It’s true what many say that Beethoven put everything he had in this one opera. What is also really interesting is that his symphonic and choral skills feed into the whole thing making it very unique in terms of sound. The final scene with chorus was a precursor of the final movement of his 9th symphony.
The story of Fidelio revolves around Leonora searching for her husband, Florestan, who is wrongly imprisoned. She dresses as a man and gets work at the prison where he might be held. Don Pizarro is the evil Governor of the prison. Complications appear when Marzelline, the daughter of the gaoler Rocco falls in love with Leonora, who everybody thinks is the man Fidelio.
Don Pizarro has a problem. The King’s Minister Don Fernando is on his way, and won’t be too happy if he finds Florestan still alive, so he plots to kill him, and with the help of Rocco and Fidelio bury his body in a well.
Down in the dungeon, Leonora confronts Pizarro and he gets overpowered, and very much in a minority in operas, everybody (apart from Pizarro, and Marzelline) lives happily ever after. This final celebratory scene sounded incredible. Chorus, soloists and orchestra at their majestic best.
In fact, all the leads, chorus and particular orchestra were superb, not a flaw in the whole thing. The set was very clever and made good use of vertical staging to give the impression of doing down to the dark dungeons.
I heard on Radio 3 the other week a discussion that many people talk about going to ‘see’ an opera due to many productions being very visual, but that does the genre a major disservice. One has to ‘experience’ the whole atmosphere of being in a theatre like last night with the sights and more importantly sounds live with no electronics. With the response the audience gave at the end (including rather amusing boo’s for Pizarro, surely a sign that people had thoroughly engaged with the performance) the whole experience will stay with people for a long time.