Sunday, September 30, 2007

OPERA: Fidelio

Wow! Just got home from a breathtaking Los Angeles Opera performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. The music is unmistakably Beethoven, beautiful and heroic, and the theme of his only opera is a suitably heroic theme: the wife of a "disappeared" political prisoner who disguises herself as a young man to find and rescue her husband. The heroine is positively inspirational in her first aria, after she's just overheard the corrupt governor and the jailer talking about killing a secret prisoner, when she sings:
Come hope, let not the last bright star
In my anguish be obscured!
Light up my goal, however far,
Through love I shall still reach it.
I follow my inner calling,
Waver I shall not,
Strength I derive
From faithfulness and love.
It is amazing how this story, so informed by Beethoven's experiences with the hope and terror of the French Revolution, and the hope and subsequent new terror of Napoleon, has so many contemporary echoes. Thoughts of Guantanamo, and of Burmese monks, kept crossing my mind as I watched. There is a great moment where, upon seeing one of the secret prisoners, and not yet knowing whether or not this one is her husband, she resolves to risk her life to save him, "whoever he is". The world could do with more of that. After seeing this opera, if I had a daughter, I would name her Leonore.

Soprano Anja Kampe was tremendous as the trouser-role heroine, with a voice that soared to all of Beethoven's lofty humanistic heights. She was marvelously paired with tenor Klaus Florian Vogt as her noble-souled imprisoned husband, whose golden pure voice dispelled darkness, and their voices blended so sweetly in their duets. There were many lovely trios and quartets, with bass Matti Salminen as the good-hearted jailer, soprano Rebekah Camm as his daughter, and tenor Greg Fedderly (well known to us here in LA) as the jailer's assistant, and a couple of memorable choruses. Some of the quartets could have been from a Rossini or Mozart comedy (though with distinctive Beethoven texture and harmonies), and this opera starts on a light note, seeming to be a comedy about crossed love interests and hidden identity (he loves her, but she loves "him", who's really a "her"), before elevating to its more serious and inspirational theme. The music throughout is sublime, and we got the added bonus of the Leonore #3 overture as an interlude between scenes of the second act. The beautiful music and gorgeous voices were enhanced all the more by an excellent staging job, with a well-designed set, and some excellent lighting techniques to conjure up the darkness of a Spanish prison and the cold depths of a Spanish cell without actually being too dark to see (a mistake that has detracted from other productions). The use of projections on a translucent screen was used to great effect. When the triumphal finale came to its magnificent end, the audience rose to its feet in applause for two full curtain calls.

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