Fidelio, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

How often do you hear a performance of the opera where the urgency, the implied race against the clock, is maintained across even the slowest and quietest music? For Mackerras, the great Act I Quartet and the Prisoners' Chorus were frozen moments out of time. In the latter, the almost imperceptible hush of the string sound brought with it a breath of disbelief as the men of the excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus emerged. The wonder of the moment was palpable. It was a performance full of such orchestral atmospherics: the terrifying stopped horns, for instance, marking the descent into Florestan's dungeon. Mackerras even revived the time-honoured tradition of inserting the Leonore No 3 overture - a stirring emotional précis of the entire opera - between the last two scenes. Just when you thought the excitement had peaked with the entire string section's headlong rush to certain victory, in came the period trombones with a chord to vanquish all oppression at a stroke.

It was a great night for Sir Charles and the orchestra, then, but also for Christine Brewer, his spectacularly accomplished Leonore. Her flawless account of the great Act I aria "Abscheulicher!" brought on shining "visionary" legato and defiant pyrotechnics plunging to resolute chest tones. She was rightly and properly the tower of vocal strength at the heart of this performance, her singing at once consistently beautiful and heroic. Impressive, too, was the blade-like vindictiveness of Terje Stensvold's Pizarro, more than a match for the fulminating orchestrations. Peter Rose was a sturdy Rocco and Lisa Milne's Marzelline charmingly parried the unwanted attentions of Timothy Robinson's Jaquino.

Only Thomas Moser's rusty, has-been Florestan disappointed, succumbing embarrassingly to the unforgiving tessitura of his feverish last-act aria.