Fidelio, Ludwig van Beethoven’s first and last opera.
After several agonizing revisions and harshly received criticism upon release, the German composer could not find it in his capabilities to contemplate composing another . . . Little did Beethoven know that it would become one of the most notorious and famous operas still performed to this day.
Nederlandse Reisopera, together with Den Kongelige Opera (Copenhagen) and Teatr Wielki (Warsaw), rekindles Beethoven’s most isolated piece and retells the story of Fidelio in a picturesque and sublime modern adaptation. With internationally renowned soprano Kelly God in the role of Leonore and tenor Bryan Register as the wrongly imprisoned husband and politician, Florestan, we are engrossed in their resonating vocals and the dynamics of the entire production.
Originally based on the libretto by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly which took inspiration from the French revolution, the narrative of the opera explicitly confounds itself with values of liberation, sacrifice and tyranny. Leonore changes her name to Fidelio and disguises herself as a male guard in an attempt to save her husband from the tyrannical prison governor, Don Pizzaro. When Pizzaro discovers that government official Don Fernando is coming to investigate accusations of cruelty in the dungeon he panics and hastens the execution of Florestan. Leonore becomes increasingly desperate to liberate her lover and earns the trust of jailer Rocco, played by Felix Speer.
The situation evolves when Rocco’s daughter, Marzelline, continually pushes her love for Fidelio while oblivious to her actual identity. As the clock is ticking and the situation becomes seemingly unresolveable, we eagerly anticipate the possible demise or, hopefully, liberation of Florestan.
Integrating Beethoven’s strong ideals of The Enlightenment, the Nederlandse Reisopera has also brilliantly translated the profound expressions of the composer’s music with the ingenious use of film, lighting and animation.
The normally dark and dangerous dungeon depicted in Beethoven’s Fidelio was instead replaced with an enlarged opaque, translucent mass screen which relied on the projection of overlapping images and the employment of light. In the notable prison chorus, O Welche Lust, in freier Luft the emerging obscured shapes through the luminous lurid screen gradually manifested into the silhouettes of the inmates being let out for fresh air. The prisoners, composed of the Consensus Vocalis Choir, gave an ecstatic performance that alluringly captured the authenticity and emotions of a convict momentarily free of their captivity. In pressing their hands against the screen toward those seated in the audience, they strikingly conveyed the message of desired freedom and liberation from oppression.
One of the most additionally distinctive and major changes from the original is the removal of dialogue. Director, Aylin Bozok, explains that this decision was to “keep the emotion completely bare for us and to completely connect” and derive our full focus on Beethoven’s music as an embodied instrument of storytelling.
Conductor, Otto Tausk, and the members of the orchestra, were phenomenal in adding to the coherency of the narrative and facilitating the audience’s apprehension of suspense or expression. Bastiaan Everink, excellent as the machiavellian Pizarro, revealed his quest for vengeance in his haunting aria Ha, welch ein Augenblick. Additional vocalists from the Choir, encircling Pizzaro and repulsed by the idea of murder, created a menacing and ominous mood.
Florestan’s profound and despairing aria, Gott, welch Dunkel hier at the beginning of Act Two did not cease to further astonish, where the vocal capabilities of Register were captivating. Meanwhile, Marzelline, played by Julietta Aleksanyan, enchanted and humored the nature of the opera with her obsessive crush on Fidelio.
At the climatic finale, the exposure of Pizarro’s cruelty, the reveal of Fidelio’s identity as Leonore, the prisoner’s liberation, and alas that of Florestan, was truly uniquely depicted. By utilizing an iPhone to perceivably broadcast a projected monochrome film of the cast onto the huge screen in real time, we were suddenly immersed in a reflection of past, present and future. The devices induced a contemplation to all those that were once oppressed from the contemporaries of Beethoven to the people still unjustly burdened in the world to this day. The otherwise minimalist approach to this exceptional modern retelling and sheer sublime simplicity was genius and infallible in illustrating the values of Fidelio.
When the lights dimmed at the story’s resolution, the audience was left astounded and up on its feet applauding. Enschede’s Nederlandse Reisopera continues to explore human emotion in their productions as it has done for the past 65 years. They will perform Fidelio again on 25th of May and is a must see for anyone who is a lover or connoisseur of music and theatre. Anja HERRMANN at Theater Carré, Amsterdam on 20th May 2023