Fidelio, Holland Park, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

You don't have to look much further than the "Democratic" Republic of Congo, Cameroon and the unseemlier Middle East to find today's Florestans. Not, perhaps, the victims of wanton personal vendetta, but victims of an abusive collective arrogance that bottles prisoners together and forgets to feed them.

When we first see the inmates of Olivia Fuchs's notably successful production for Opera Holland Park, they are still immured, agued, twitching, blind. Like Beethoven's score itself, the staging is wise and unpretentious; even before we reached the immured depths of Alan Oke's gripping "special prisoner", it said it all.

What brought the on-your-doorstep awfulness home were well-observed directorial cameos for all the leads. Conal Coad's bluff old Rocco has a healthy distaste for upstarts. Hardly surprising when it was Nicholas Folwell's pushy Pizarro, an oily combination of self-appointed Fuhrer and strutting Italian, with a horrid flick of the head, and slimy little man's swagger.

Little touches - such as the isolation of a sadist-in-the-making Jaquino (Christopher Saunders, excellent) and his rejection by Sarah Redgwick's scared, just as wonderfully sung Marzelline - kept this production motoring. The Holland Park peacocks (with good taste) liked Yvonne Howard's Leonora. She even looks like a young Rocco (no wonder his daughter dotes), and if the femininity of Leo suffered, the drama didn't.

The brilliance of the reverberated sound gained from Jamie Vartan's square-on prison set, with the intelligent three-dimensional addition of small rear office. There's one "bad idea", though: the entry of a badly-clad governor plus cameras and paparazzi after a needless pause. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

No such doubts about the masterful conducting of Peter Robinson. From the spirited opening bars (cellos, second violins) this was a Fidelio which consistently achieved all the right pacings: a real sense of how the detail fits into a greater whole. Marzelline's quartet-launch was spot on. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra furnished rich detail, notably subterranean contrabassoon for the grave digging and triple horns for Leonora's wonderful "Komm, Hoffnung." And Alan Oke's voice has finally arrived: he gives a wonderful, baritone Florestan, with a fine tenor range topping it still. For him, it was a personal triumph.

To 28 June (0845 230 9769). The festival ends 9 August

Comments