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Beethoven Fidelio

Florestan: Endrik Wottrich
Leonore: Karita Mattila
Rocco: Eric Halfvarson
Marzelline: Ailish Tynan
Jaquino: Robert Murray
Don Pizarro: Terje Stensvold
Don Fernando: Robert Lloyd
First Prisoner: Haoyin Xue§
Second Prisoner: Krzysztof Szumanski

Director: Jürgen Flimm
Set designs: Robert Israel
Costume designs: Florence von Gerkan
Lighting: Duane Schuler

ROH, Covent Garden 27 May 2007

This production "owned by the Metropolitan Opera in New York" was premiered in London at a matinée, which might excuse the messy overture, with two "horn disasters" (c.f. one at New York) and poorly balanced, raucous trumpets. The settings posed problems of logical consistency (well, it is "opera") but, with essential suspension of disbelief, one capitulated in the second act to the exuberance of the final scene, the huge ROH chorus filling the stage with colour.

The afternoon's greatest strength was the perfectly matched pairing of the great Karita Mattila, in resplendent voice and ideally convincing in her trousers role, and the best tenor I have ever heard as Florestan, Endrik Wottrich. Vocally, he shows none of the strain which other tenors display (that being well in character, given the situation of the starved and soon to be killed political prisoner - to be rescued only in the nick of time).
[illustrated L]

The interview link above shows that Wottrich, new to me, is himself something of a pugnacious political pugilist, "demonised in his native Germany for daring to speak out". He has stamina in reserve and is potentially one of the finest Wagnerian tenors around (q.v. "a real Wagnerian hero, confidently sung with power and baritonal darkness, steady tone and a great deal of expression" (Siegmund at Stockholm).

Eric Halfvarson was well characterised as a bumbling Rocco, out of his depth with his responsibilities and fearful of compromising his humanitarian inclinations with the reprisals of officialdom. The veteran Robert Lloyd, who had sung Don Fernando at Covent Garden in 1983, dominated his scene.

Robert Israel’s settings were incongruous and tended to dissipate the essences of the drama with various illogicalities which one tried at first to understand, later came to ignore. Some of the scenes are well directed by Flimm and the second act is moving as ever. Others disappointed, e.g. the Prisoners Chorus under the sun. The final scene (opening with the reunited couple still lying embraced in one corner, the populace dressed as for a festive holiday, and behind them execution and toppling of a dictator's statue etc) is so unrealistic and replete with absurdities that it would have lent itself to the old convention (now usually abandoned) of giving the Leonora No 3 overture beforehand; the orchestra would probably have got themsleves together by that point.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Melanaie Eskanazi's take on this production in Seen&Heard.

Other productions: Musical Pointers has reviewed Fidelio live and on DVD several times; our favourite remains Olivia Fuchs' 2003 production at Opera Holland Park, with Yvonne Howard, who will be taking some of the performances in the current run at Covent Garden [Editor]

Photo Credits: Ashmore ROH