Vancouver Opera

Beethoven's Fidelio

Dates and Venue 22, 25, 27, 29 March 2008 @ 7.30 pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Florestan Richard Margison Leonore Carol Wilson Don Pizarro Tom Fox Rocco John Cheek Marzelline Robyn Driedger-Klassen Jacquino Colin Ainsworth Don Fernando Alain Coulombe First Prisoner John Arsenault Second Prisoner Calvin Powell

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Dejan Miladinovic

Reviewer J H Stape

Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio (1805/1814), about the longing for freedom and its achievement through love and sympathy, is given an updated setting in this production, from Milwaukee's Florentine Opera, moved from a vaguely Napoleonic Spain to the days of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

With an impressive cast, incandescent direction from the pit, and a relentlessly compelling "concept," this is a "must-see" performance for anyone interested in opera as music theatre. Vancouver Opera gets it right on all counts.

And updates are tricky, even finicky, by nature, needing to avoid mere gimmickry, on the one hand, and to justify their existence on the other. This production largely succeeds on both counts, though there are a couple lapses in taste.

Fernando the liberator at the opera's close comes across more as a smarmy politician at a photo-op -- photojournalism is one of the production's contemporary motifs -- than the breaker of tyranny's chains. Another mis-step is the distracting image projections of the two leads frolicking in an identifiable Stanley Park during Lenore/Fidelio's great first act aria.

But cavils aside, this is an intelligent staging (and a Serb, Director Dejan Miladinovic certainly knows his fascism firsthand), brilliantly lit, and powerfully mounted, with top-drawer musical values. Maestro Darlington long ago made the Vancouver Orchestra his special baby, and he leads it in a shimmering performance of fine nuance.

The assembled cast acts and sings its collective heart out. Canadian superstar tenor Richard Margison offers a towering Florestan, his entrance in the second act simply breathtaking and his work throughout distinguished. American soprano Carol Wilson in the title-role, no stranger to VO productions, is a no less compelling Leonore, committed and in fine voice, playing the trouser role to the hilt and then the vulnerable wife, deeply moved and deeply moving.

The normative couple Jacquino, a dashingly handsome Colin Ainsworth, and Marzelline, a pretty Robyn Driedger-Klassen, both Canadian, sing German as if to the manor born, their voices fresh and sparkling, and laced with honey, and their stage presences lively and adept.

The dark male voices -- no less than three in this opera -- are commanding: John Cheek's Rocco is both well acted and well sung; Thomas Fox is a powerful tyrant, inhabiting his role thoroughly; and the ever--reliable Alain Coulombe brings authority to his brief but central role as Fernando, the Minister of State for Prisons.

There are, in short, no weak links and several brightly shining stars in this production ... and, then, there is Beethoven, his genius so abundantly manifest in this thrilling music, a paean to the invincibility of the human spirit, that one leaves the theatre with much to ponder and much to wonder about. And how often can you leave any performance saying that?

The melodies linger and the stage picture remains in the memory. (And, please, give us lashings more of European-inspired productions rather than knock-offs of the staid Metropolitan Opera.)

Yawohl, indeed. Vancouver Opera gets it right this time, and even more than that -- this production is no less than a triumph: musically fine, thought-provoking, and superbly brought to life.

© 2008 J H Stape