Florestan is a political prisoner, imprisoned for his beliefs, not for any particular crime. Improbably, though affecting when it works in the opera house, his wife Leonore disguises herself as a man to get a job in the jail to free her husband.
What to do with the piece in the first year of the 21st-century? Deborah Warner doesnt seem to know. She sets it in contemporary dress in a modern police state maybe. A police state without policemen - the prison governor, Don Pizarro, hardly cuts an authority-figure attired in slacks and check shirt. In Act 1 the stage-picture messily reveals a number of iron grills - suggesting a pet shop not a prison - and a few desks. In Act 2, the dungeon consists of a black drape and a handful of bricks. Warner tries to reinforce the subterranean aspect by using a well drip drip drip - to the detriment of the music - which on a realistic level deflates the premise that Florestan is being slowly killed from lack of water! For the final liberating tableau the drapes dissolve, the freed prisoners commingle with the crowd shadowy figures, backlit a device Warner has now used once too often. Being charitable, Warners staging doesnt hinder Beethovens message; it doesnt enhance it either.
Far more dynamic is Sir Simon Rattle, working from a newly published edition of the score, with some top-notch work from the OAE, which really comes into its own, finely prepared by Rattle - gut strings, reedy woodwinds, blazing, raw brass and punchy timpani strokes: one can hear the sense of enlightenment for which Beethoven is striving. Rattle shapes the whole consummately, playing up the awkward domestic comedy of the first exchanges, creating the atmosphere of Florestans hell with scene-painting reminiscent of his translucent traversal of Parsifal; finally, he brings Fidelio to a tumultuous, triumphantly-stirring conclusion with a full-throated, accurately-pitched chorus.
Charlotte Margionos frumpy Leonore hardly looks like a heroine but she sings powerfully enough; Kim Begleys Florestan is affecting but not riveting in either delivery or characterisation; Rheinhard Hagen is a young and admirable Rocco, with some thunderous low notes; Lisa Milnes transparent Marzelline, Timothy Robinsons intense Jaquino and Steven Pages savage Pizzarro keep up the good work the latter compensating for his relaxed uniform with a vocal display of power and certainty.
And at the end, what is there? Theres snow! Snow at the end of ENOs Falstaff, a pile of the stuff is omnipresent in Covent Gardens The Queen of Spades - now it closes Glyndebournes Fidelio. It looks pretty enough - and no doubt gives stagehands something to do after curtain down - but unless its Janaceks Siberia-set From the House of the Dead, could directors leave it out please.
This, along with Beethoven himself, is Rattles evening.
- Further performances on June 9, 14, 17, 22 and 25
- Box Office: 01273 813813