Fidelio, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2013Posted on 26 September 2013
Fidelio is far from my favourite opera, so for me the novelty of this new staging was a welcome departure from the usual dreary prison.
Catalan director Calixto Bieito has instead placed the events in a modern setting of steel and glass, the prisoners being so-to-speak trapped in offices where they spend most of their lives. The set by Rebecca Ringst, cleverly lit by Tim Mitchell, shows a curious rear movement during the quartet in the first scene of Act I, and at the start of Act II it tilts backwards by 90˚ turning the previously open structure into an underground labyrinth.
The concept of the Cretan labyrinth is alluded to before the overture in a monologue by Leonora saying roughly, “Your fate is iron clad. Do not expect a [Minotaur]. It does not exist. Expect nothing …”. Mr. Bieito’s additions to this opera will not please everyone, and there was some booing for the production team at the end, but the insertion of a string quartet in Act II was an inspired touch. Musicians in three cages suspended from above the stage, reminding me of the three boys in Mozart’s Magic Flute, played an edited version of the slow movement from Beethoven’s opus 132.
Of course this is not Mozart with his ready acceptance of ambivalence, but Beethoven’s hymn of praise to the virtues of patience and determination, qualities that enabled him to restructure and revive this opera ten years after its inauspicious first performances. Mr. Bieito’s production alleviates the determination in intriguing ways, one of which was very odd. The minister and Spanish nobleman, Don Fernando, who visits the prison and finds his ‘disappeared’ friend Florestan, becomes a deus ex machina figure, first appearing in a box to the side of the stage. Made up like a joker and lavishly dressed in eighteenth century costume, he later comes onto the stage and shoots Florestan. But it was only a mock death, and the chorus rounded it off magnificently at the end.
Fine conducting by Edward Gardner, and the singing was excellent. Emma Bell sang with outstanding beauty as Leonora/ Fidelio, and Stuart Skelton was a hugely powerful Florestan, producing a fabulous long note as he revived. The whole cast brought out the essential life in this opera, with James Cresswell superb as Rocco the gaoler, Sarah Tynan entirely convincing as his daughter Marzelline, and a small but perfect contribution from Ronald Nairn as Second Prisoner.
This vivid production made a bold start to the ENO’s new season, and performances of this opera continue on September 27, and October 1, 3, 6, 12, 17 — for details click here.