Fidelio, Garsington Opera review: 'Viscerally powerful'

The directorially tricky denouement generates real excitement

Garsington’s high-tech opera house floats like a mirage above the rolling acres of the Getty estate, and its clientele is quintessentially well-heeled; Fidelio is about dirt, physical degradation, mortal terror, and bloody revolution.

Not an obvious match, yet John Cox’s revival of his originally underpraised Garsington production is one of the most viscerally powerful accounts of Beethoven’s opera I have ever seen.

Given the timeless relevance of the plot, it’s appropriate that the cage enclosing the action should evoke Guantanamo, but the show uses no other props. The Getty gardens are deftly exploited however – it’s a lovely moment when the prisoners stumble up into the daylight, sniffing the flowers and stretching out on the grass.

Cox’s direction is faultless, as is Douglas Boyd’s support from the pit, and the singing is of a very high standard; the first-act quartet swells and ramifies with wonderful assurance, and the choruses are magnificent throughout.

Stephen Richardson’s cuddly Rocco anchors the drama, with Jennifer France’s exquisitely-sung Marzelline dominating the first act; Rebecca von Lipinski’s Leonore has androgynous grace, and Darren Jeffery’s Pizarro a theatre-print malevolence, while Joshua Bloom incarnates the minister with rare baritonal richness.

The directorially tricky denouement (gun trumping knife) here generates real excitement, and there’s intense pathos in the way Peter Wedd’s Florestan makes his incredulous return to normal life.