Magazine article The Spectator

Power to Inspire

Magazine article The Spectator

Power to Inspire

Article excerpt





Beethoven's Fidelio is one of the most moving operas in the repertoire, but I've usually been more moved by it in concert than on stage. The gaucheries of its plot, which include, really, hardly having any plot - we encounter, after the relatively light opening, the embodiment of noble feminine determination, then the embodiment of powerful male malevolence, and in Act II when one confronts the other qthe result is instant victory for the Good, thanks to the convenient intervention of an oft-invoked Providence. It is hard to credit as drama, much more evidently convincing as a cantata of celebration, in which the intensely affecting main message stands out against the quotidian bickerings. There is, admittedly, the interesting figure of the gaoler Rocco, the good-hearted elderly man who knows that you can't get far without money, and who refuses to murder an innocent man but agrees to dig his grave, for a price. But he functions more as a musical bass-line than as a dramatically relevant character.

Yes once in a while, if Fidelio is staged with enough conviction, and without directorial attempts to round out two-dimensional figures, it retains its power to inspire, even if it doesn't exactly persuade one that Good will Triumph. This new Garsington production of John Cox's manages to do that, thanks to the noble simplicity with which he manages the action. Gary McCann's designs are not exactly realistic, but they do the job:

Florestan's cell is a sewerage pipe, there is a small watch-tower with spiral staircase in the centre, and a gallery behind; and two big cisterns, from one of which the prisoners emerge for their brief moments in the fresh air in Act I. As they concluded their chorus they wandered off dazedly into the lovely garden, an extraordinarily beautiful moment.

The singing was mainly of a high standard, with a quite outstanding Fidelio from Rebecca von Lipinski, surely destined for a major career. She was fearless in the great aria, with absolutely firm tone, and she negotiated Beethoven's terrifying coloratura lines with aplomb; but she also managed the quiet conviction of 'ja, ja, sie wird's erreichen' with an inwardness that made one weep. Her Florestan was well worth rescuing, too: Peter Wedd confirmed that he is a lyric tenor who can manage incursions into the heroic, and acted with fervent desperation. Sergei Leiferkus, a big coup for Garsington, acted as Russian opera singers do: he hammed it up to a point where he was bound to be booed, as villain, at the end - while the conductor Douglas Boyd gave him his head by hammering out the climax to his aria at half-tempo, something I haven't heard for more than four decades. …

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