A wife's devotion that lifts the spirit

Battler: Soprano Lisa Milne gives a powerful performance as Leonore. Pictures: Bill Cooper

 Fidelio

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

What a joy!  The Welsh National Opera's Fidelio, one of their Eternal Light series, lifts the heart.  

Beethoven's only opera is set in the political uncertainty and struggle of Europe in the late 18th century.  It is a tale of a wife's devotion and her endeavour to set free her husband who has been imprisoned for his beliefs by the tyrant governor, and the triumphant success of hope and faith winning over all.

 The production has received some unfavourable reviews but I for one found that, in terms of ‘opera-for-the-uneducated-in-such', the show was a success both visually and musically. 

  My companion, a dear little, old lady with limited sight had declined the offer of audio assistance.  She was familiar with the tale and thought the production wonderful and was pleasantly surprised by the range of the music, in part jolly and in parts very sombre.

 In the first act we are treated to a playful singspiel as Jaquino (Robin Tritschler) pursues Marzelline (Elizabeth Donavan) and is rejected. 

Florestan is taken prisoner and his wife Leonore, (soprano Lisa Milne), disguises herself as a man, Fidelio, to become an aide to Rocco (James Cresswell) the prison warder in the hope of finding and setting free her husband.  Rocco's daughter takes a shine to Fidelio and turns away her suitor Jaquino. 

Don Pizarro (Robert Hayward) is a rather good baddie as he sets out to cover up his crimes by disposing of  Don Florestan

The governor, Don Pizarro (Robert Hayward) learns the Minister will be visiting to investigate his abuse of power and he determines to dispose of the evidence, the tortured, starved Florestan.  The characters do ‘lurk' a little during Pizarro's powerful solo, he has murder in his heart but there is lot of pfaffing with the furniture throughout.  He enlists Rocco to help dispose of the prisoner and he in turn enlists the help of Fidelio.

The prisoners are released into the light of the day to celebrate the King's birthday and we are delighted with a moving chorus. Pizarro is furious and they forlornly return to their cells.  

Act two opens with a solo from Florestan, he is strong as he looks towards his death, at peace with his God.   Under cover of darkness Florestan and Rocco skulk through the night, there is a good use of light and shadow as they move deeper into the bowels of the prison with only their meagre lantern to light the way.

 When they discover the doomed Floreston, at first he doesn't recognise his wife, nor she him. The Governor comes along to do the dirty deed but Leonore, disguised as the jailer Fidelio, with a very moving solo puts herself between her man and the Don; he must first kill the wife.  The Governor is stopped from carrying out his deed by a timely horn solo announcing the arrival of the Minister. Florestan is saved and the prisoners are freed by the kindly Minister. 

A hearty chorus is sung by all. In the final scene we hear the 60 plus ensemble rejoice in hope, freedom and the praise of God, and in the honour of the good wife who conquered all to release her husband from certain death. 

When taking his bow the baddie, Pizarro, received suitable boos and the whole company received a warm and lengthy applause.  

Geraint Dodd took the part of Florestan as Dennis O'Neill was indisposed. 10-11-10.

The opera is performed again at the Hippodrome on Friday,  12-11-10. 

Lynda Ford    

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