In a frank confession before the first night of Fidelio, director Frederic Wake-Walker revealed he had cut the dialogue from Beethoven’s only opera because “it’s so clunky and there are so many holes in the backstory.”
Almost totally disappeared is the love triangle when the opera’s heroine Leomore disguises herself as a boy to work in the jail where she believes her husband is imprisoned by the corrupt prison governor Don Piazarro. The dispute between the jailor’s daughter Marzelline and her fiance Jaquino over Marzelline’s unrequited love for Leonore/Fidelio is replaced by new text drawn from various sources (including lines by Nelson Mandela) on the subject of freedom. They are voiced by actress Gertrude Thoma playing German schoolteacher Estella who agonises from beside the stage over Leonore’s fight against fascism in which the schoolteacher too is involved as part of a resistance group. By the time storm-troopers in black arrive to drag Estella offstage, we have got the picture: yes indeed, the fight against fascism continues, as we disjointedly return to Beethoven’s text.
Designer Anna Jones’s huge drum-shaped cage of steel and wire gauze on which moving images are projected by FRAY Studio’s Adam Young makes a spectacular centrepiece. Hand held projections throw distorted images of the singers on the surrounding walls of the cage and can be distracting especially in the second act dungeon where Adam Smith as Florestan has to operate a video camera while his hands are shackled.
Despite the irritants, Beethoven’s music wins through in the fine performances of the young cast led by German soprano Dorothea Herbert in her Glyndebourne debut as a Leonore of passionate intensity. British tenor Adam Smith is a distinctive Florestan and bass-baritone Dingle Yandell a formidably chilling Don Pizarro. Calum Thrope’s jailor Rocco, together with Carrie-Ann Williams’s Marzelline and Gavin Ring’s Jaquino flesh out effectively their refigured roles.
Originally scheduled for Glyndebourne’s 2020 Summer Festival, then cancelled owing to Coivid-19 and shifted to this autumn’s Glyndebourne Tour, Fidelio will play only at Glyndebourne’s own opera house. On tour, along with Handel’s Messiah, will be two tried and tested revivals – Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and Stravinsky’s The Rakes Progress – both productions I can thoroughly recommend.
Conductor: Ben Glassberg.
Director: Frederic Wake-Walker.
Designer: Anna Jones.
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford.
Projection Designer: Adam Young, FRAY Studio.
Glyndebourne Chorus Director: Aidan Oliver.
Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra Leader: Richard Malone.
Production Photograph: Richard Hubert Smith @ Glyndebourne Productions Ltd