Fidelio, Op.72 – Opera in two acts to a libretto by Joseph von Sonnleithner with revisions by Stephan von Breuning & Georg Friedrich Treitschke [sung in German with new English dialogue conceived by Frederic Wake-Walker and written in collaboration with Gertrude Thoma, Peter Cant & Zoë Palmer]
Estella – Gertrude Thoma
Leonore – Dorothea Herbert
Florestan – Dingle Yandell
Marzelline – Carrie-Ann Williams
Jaquino – Gavan Ring
Rocco – Callum Thorpe
Don Pizarro – Adam Smith
Don Fernando – Jonathan Lemalu
First Prisoner – Robert Lewis
Second Prisoner – Tom Mole
James Bellorini, Trevor Goldstein, Bella Harrison, Rachel Partington, Addis Williams – Actors
The Glyndebourne Chorus
The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra
Frederic Wake-Walker – Director
Anna Jones – Designer
Peter Mumford – Lighting
Adam Young, FRAY Studio – Projection
Reviewed by: David Gutman
Reviewed: 8 October, 2021
Venue: Glyndebourne Opera House, Lewes, East Sussex, U.K.
Since its inception, opera at Glyndebourne has often been seen as innately conservative. This year’s autumn planting looks as glorious as ever in the twilight but Fidelio opens the GTO season in subversive mode. Frederic Wake-Walker is not the first to dispense with its original dialogue but where, for example, Daniel Barenboim gave Waltraud Meier’s Leonore the additional burden of narration (partly pre-recorded) this long-gestated, root-and-branch reorientation goes much further.
Least successful is the creation of the non-singing character of Estella, a teacher who seems to exist in her own (or is it our own?) universe of conspiracy, suffering and state oppression. Then again, this is just one of many conceits thrown at an opera whose first half becomes an eye-straining art installation about surveillance. It is not until after the interval that the hyperactive video projections cease to dwarf the live action and a more selective focus heightens the near-madness of the incarcerated Florestan. Then, as liberation is achieved, the design concept moves on. Harshly lit real-life blacks and silver-greys give way to a fantastical riot of gold lamé, the galleried modern-prison set noisily bedecked with coordinating foil. The chorus acquire togas or other regalia. In Deborah Warner’s 2001 Glyndebourne staging prettifying snow fell on the final pageant, here the flakes are large and blue. The effect is both tacky and joyful, like some hallucinogenic take on Up Pompeii!. An audience audibly disgruntled at the interval is much more supportive at the close.
Musically the show is in safe hands. Notwithstanding the odd scruffy corner on opening night, the overture’s crisp, Haydnesque manners are carried through beyond the ‘watershed’ of the Act 1 quartet. By accident or design the insistent forward drive tips the final stages of the opera into near-hysteria. Earlier the pacing of Leonore’s ‘Abscheulicher!’ also feels a little uncomfortable for the German soprano Dorothea Herbert whose performance grows in stature throughout. Like the other protagonists she sounds more confident when not singing through a screen. Apart from Jonathan Lemalu’s sadly unresonant Don Fernando there are no veterans in the cast and no weak links either. The Marzelline of Carrie-Ann Williams is particularly fresh and beguiling while Callum Thorpe’s Rocco is already world class, his warm bass a perfect match for the character. Dingle Yandell is a credible Don Pizarro, Adam Smith’s Florestan outstanding. This young British tenor has the acting chops and a real gleam about the voice.
Those who prefer opera productions to serve rather than swamp established classics should run a mile but as sheer spectacle Wake-Walker’s Fidelio is not easily forgotten. There are eight further performances between now and the end of the month and the show is only being performed at Glyndebourne this autumn. If you do make the trip expect to be arguing about it for days. And enjoy the flowers!