Leonore – Charlotte Margiono
Florestan – Kim Begley
Rocco – Rheinhard Hagen
Marzelline – Lisa Milne
Jaquino – Timothy Robinson
Pizarro – Steven Page
Glyndebourne Chorus, Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment conducted by Sir Simon Rattle
Reviewed by: Duncan Hadfield
Reviewed: 17 May, 2001
Venue: Glyndebourne, Sussex
Amid the abundance and supreme heroic confidence of Beethoven’s oeuvre, his solitary excursion into opera is isolated and equivocal. Beethoven, prolific and masterly, was not unattracted to the theatre – incidental music forms a sizeable part of his output. Yet, Fidelio (and its prototype, Leonore) was his only opera – it took ten years to reach its final shape, going through three versions and four overtures in the process. Strange, hybrid – a ’liberation opera’ – Fidelio was written in the shadow of the French Revolution.
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 doesn’t 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, Warner’s staging doesn’t hinder Beethoven’s message; it doesn’t 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 Florestan’s ’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 Margiono’s frumpy Leonore hardly looks like a heroine but she sings powerfully enough; Kim Begley’s 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 Milne’s transparent Marzelline, Timothy Robinson’s intense Jaquino and Steven Page’s 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? There’s snow! Snow at the end of ENO’s Falstaff, a pile of the stuff is omnipresent in Covent Garden’s The Queen of Spades – now it closes Glyndebourne’s Fidelio. It looks pretty enough – and no doubt gives stagehands something to do after curtain down – but unless it’s Janacek’s Siberia-set From the House of the Dead, could directors leave it out please.
This, along with Beethoven himself, is Rattle’s evening.
- Further performances on June 9, 14, 17, 22 and 25
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