Fidelio, Royal Opera House
Wednesday 30 March 2011
The Prisoners’ Chorus in ‘Fidelio’ is one of the great moments in opera. After years in the dark, the grey-faced multitude are suddenly released from their cells and stumble out into the light.
The orchestra has glowingly prepared us for this moment, and the great choral shout which ensues - ‘Oh what joy!’ - comes like the sun bursting through clouds. The prisoners are vividly characterised, with one warning the others to keep quiet, as the menacing shades could as easily engulf them once more: this is as clear a musical evocation of what being ‘disappeared’ means – think Argentina in the Eighties, or the Middle East now – as one could imagine.
Yet in Jurgen Flimm’s production this scene goes for nothing. The chorus starts some time after the men have been released, and they just sing casually as they mill around; there’s no excitement, no build-up of power, no sense of the earth having disgorged them as there was in Graham Vick’s ENO production.
Moreover, if there is one moment where the central relationship in this drama reaches its apogee, it’s when Leonore and her husband Florestan are reunited in the latter’s prison cell, after evading seemingly certain death. Beethoven’s music for their ecstatic duet implies its own stage directions, but Flimm has other ideas: rather than embracing, his couple express their delight without looking at each other, and from opposite ends of the stage.
Heaven knows why this theatrically inert show was imported from the New York Met. Act One unfolds in an unvaryingly hard light, with the family drama dwarfed by the barn-like prison; Act Two, in the dungeons below, has moments of unintentional comedy; the finale, in which the liberated men are reunited with their wives and children, comes across like a revivalist rally. To make any sense of this story, you must choose either the political route, or the personal one, but Flimm chooses neither.
On the first night the orchestra was off-colour, but we got some fine singing. Endrik Wottrich’s Florestan was under-powered, but Nina Stemme gave us a wonderfully burnished performance as Leonore, with Kurt Rydl and Elizabeth Watts perfectly embodying Rocco and Marzelline, and Willard White type-cast as the benign deus ex machina.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
- 2 Rihanna 'nude pictures' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Downton Abbey fans unimpressed by Kindle sponsorship adverts
Thomas Heatherwick creates gin palace with a fantastical Willy Wonka vibe
Cilla, episode 2, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith continues to shine
Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
The Lion King becomes biggest grossing musical ever
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God