This is Fidelio’s 200th anniversary year. I’ve heard it said that every really great composer has at least one opera in him (or her). For me Beethoven’s Fidelio is proof positive that that just isn’t so. I am convinced that if it weren’t for the lovely first act overture which is frequently performed in concert and the Beethoven name this opera would have fallen out of the common repertoire long, long ago. So my wife and I approached Lyric’s production of Fidelio with some misgivings.
We were pleasantly surprised. I’ve seen Fidelio performed a number of times by significantly more notable performers than we heard last night—this was by far the best performance of Fidelio I’ve ever seen.
It definitely could have been otherwise. This was a modern-dress production and the costumes and sets were drab and spare (suitable for the prison setting of the opera). The acting (with one exception) was quite naturalistic and I found that the natural stage direction and business relieved the ponderous and overly-didactic quality I’ve found other productions of the opera to have. The exception that I mentioned was Rene Pape, who sang Rocco. His singing was fine but I found his acting rather more stylized than the rest of the cast.
Although there were no real stand-outs among the voices, I found them quite well-balanced and I felt they supported each other quite well. Actually, the ensemble pieces were better than the soli. This was particularly true of Isabel Bayrakdarian who sang Marzelline. Her first act duet with Steve Davislim as Jaquino was quite lovely. Her solo aria that immediately followed was somewhat less so.
Karita Mattila’s performance as Fidelio was authoritative and convincing.
Von Dohnanyi’s conducting was a distinct asset to the performance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Lyric Opera orchestra sound better or play with more finesse. Even the brief horn solo (often a rough spot in Lyric performances) from the first act overture was executed flawlessly.
I do have some quibbles with aspects of the production and design. I didn’t care for the Act II, Scene 1 prison set at all. How can anyone make an entrace down a fifteen foot ladder? And, although he was fine vocally, I found Kim Begley’s physical presence as Florestan disconcerting. I’ve never seen a fat, bald, greybeard as Florestan before. What should have been Edmond Dantes was more like Scott Calvin from The Santa Claus. The reunion duet between Leonore and Florestan was odd—a married couple who have been separated for two years proclaiming their joy at being reunited from opposite sides of the stage. Don Fernando looked too much like Lenin. by the second act the chorus had returned to the old low, Lyric standards for blocking, in this case a mob.
But, as I say, those are quibbles. I found the production enjoyable, the music lovely, the voices balanced. One of the highlights of the season so far.
The season so far (best to worst): Das Rheingold, The Cunning Little Vixen—Fidelio (tied), Aida, Don Giovanni, A Wedding.