Fidelio, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

The casting of Davis's London Symphony operatic concerts has proved consistently illuminating over the last few years, but with the notable exception of a memorable Falstaff (now happily enshrined on LSO Live discs, as will be this Fidelio) they've never got it as right as here. In terms of individual strengths and collective blend, you'd be hard-pushed to get a better line-up.

Its anchor and backbone was the peerless Leonore/Fidelio of Christine Brewer. As this marvellous singer demonstrated in a recent concert performance under Sir Charles Mackerras, her voice has all the attributes for the role: warmth, clarity, resolve and - most importantly - a heroic extension at both top and bottom of an unusually wide vocal compass. In a flawless account of the great "Abscheulicher!", she defiantly nailed the highs and lows, while embracing hope in the arching phrases of the aria's still centre. The way the voice lightened and opened with the vision of "a rainbow through the clouds" turned cliché into rapture.

Sally Matthews similarly blessed the role of the cruelly duped Marzelline. This lovely singer's vibrant delivery - every phrase so meaningfully shaped and shaded - carried all the conviction of a fledgling Leonore. Her doting would-be husband Jacquino was characterfully taken by Andrew Kennedy. And stepping in at short notice (though you would never have known it) as Rocco was the Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson, whose warm, rolling tones turned benevolence into sound. And what better sound on which to anchor the transcendent Act I quartet "Mir ist so wunderbar", in which base domesticity becomes the music of the angels.

Finally, as Florestan, John MacMaster immediately established his presence and credentials with a thrillingly open sound, and the tessitura of his hallucinatory aria seemingly held no fears for him.

Liberation and affirmation came with a roar under Davis's inspired direction. Perhaps I should have liked a leaner, meaner orchestral sound with more forwardly incisive winds, but as the chorus, soloists and orchestra kicked over the traces with that other ode to joy, both bar lines and criticism no longer seemed relevant.

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