Magazine article The Spectator

Words, Not Pictures

Magazine article The Spectator

Words, Not Pictures

Article excerpt


Cadogan Hall

Vita Nuova

Royal Festival Hall

Birtwistle and Benjamin

Linbury Studio

Fidelio is an opera which, in my recent experience, almost always overwhelms me in a concert performance and almost always leaves me embarrassed or indignant when staged. Embarrassed, because the transvestite necessities of the heroine would almost never convince anyone, as Cherubino or Octavian can, or Handel's galaxy of emperors sung by mezzos.

Indignant, because the naïve assumption of the plot, that there is a Providence which ensures that things will turn out well for those with courage and conviction, is simply false, and that is much more manifest when acted out than when only sung. The climactic dungeon quartet is thrilling to listen to, almost always absurd to look at. At the Cadogan Hall last week the new London Lyric Opera did mainly just sing, though with movement; but Pizarro drew a dagger on Fidelio and she responded with a pistol -- and it was not effective, because it was clear that all she needed to do was to shoot. Unfortunately the Pizarro was James Hancock, who is behind this whole noble enterprise, but who sloped on to the stage looking rather like a Hitler who was having second thoughts about his policies, and sang with a voice to match.

Certainly on the vocal side he didn't stand a chance against the formidable Fidelio of Elizabeth Connell. Though her voice can be harsh now, she sang her great aria most movingly, as she spoke her lines; and her presence galvanised everyone else.

The Florestan of Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, most celebrated for his Peter Grimes with Opera North, lived up to all my hopes.

Surely here, at last, we have a heroic tenor who has the kind of fervent commitment to his roles, and the means to convey it, that Jon Vickers had. His aria, too, was extraordinarily moving -- though the clap-happy audience managed to applaud it despite Beethoven's evident attempts to prevent that. It was partly the fault of the conductor, Madeleine Lovell, a young director of music from Cambridge, who left a long gap between each item, even though it early became abundantly clear that many members of the audience would clap after any Shakespeare monologue. Her idea of theatricality seems to be to gallop through the music and then stop dead for a break. Her mainly rapid tempi were often exciting, sometimes excessive. She shaped the finales to both acts well, and the closing chorus wonderfully gave the impression that Beethoven felt that, however much rejoicing there has been, more is required.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was on fine, if occasionally slapdash form. …

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