Fidelio, Royal Opera House, review: As they say in football, it’s a game of two halves

This new production of Beethoven’s only opera, conducted by Antonio Pappano, goes downhill in Act Two

Michael Church
Monday 02 March 2020 13:50 GMT
Lise Davidsen as Fidelio and Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan in 'Fidelio' at the Royal Opera House
Lise Davidsen as Fidelio and Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan in 'Fidelio' at the Royal Opera House (ROH/Bill Cooper)


On paper, director Tobias Kratzer’s rationale for his production of Beethoven’s Fidelio made persuasive sense. He started from the premise that Beethoven set his story in Spain because the censors would have spiked it if he’d set it where it belonged, in Revolutionary France. Kratzer’s production is accordingly placed in the last days of the Terror of 1794. There would be updating, but not in the first act, which would take place under the banner of the tricolour symbolising the people’s hopes. Pizarro – the evil governor – would be a Robespierre figure; his opponent Florestan would be a Danton.

Act Two would, on the other hand, have a Brechtian timelessness, allowing Beethoven’s ideas of political freedom to take flight. Heroine Leonore’s example would be a call for public altruism; the passive reactions to the drama by the chorus, symbolising us, would be shown projected onto the backdrop. The merciful deus ex machina at the end would not be played by a higher state authority, but collectively by the chorus itself. The dialogue at the liberating close would include quotes from the playwrights Georg Büchner and Franz Grillparzer, both near-contemporaries of Beethoven. It all sounded very neat.

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