Leonora Yvonne Howard
Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Robinson
Several visits to see operas
at Holland Park in previous years have been enjoyable
and rewarding, but some had needed acceptance that this had
begun as an enterprise with limited funding - ingenuity often prevailed
over staging limitations. The images chosen emphasise the bleakness
of Olivia Fuchs' prison setting.
If this first production of 2003 is a portent of what is to come, we have now in central London a 'country house opera' which easily stands comparison with Glyndebourne and is worthy to pull in opera buffs from far afield, indeed for Fidelio collectors from overseas will not regret the journey. There is no long interval, but picnic hampers and champagne on the terrace were much in evidence during the hour before the handbell drew us to our seats from various corners of this beautiful park, one of London's loveliest.
This is a Fidelio which exemplifies all that is best about recent developments in operatic production. Olivia Fuchs places it in a credible present, described in detail in the uniformly laudatory reviews elsewhere. The attention to detail ensures that each character is drawn in the round and the control of movement and gesture is masterly. The casting and ensemble singing and acting are exemplary, enhanced by the bleak, contemporary setting which looks entirely credible in front of the somewhat dilapidated facade which accommodates the wide stage. The opening of the doors to reveal the cramped cells was a theatrical coup of high order.
There is no orchestra pit but balance is fine and one was riveted from the first moments of the overture by the hard sticks on the tympani. The crisp playing of the RPO under Peter Robinson's perfectly paced conducting underpinned what we saw and heard from the stage. Towards the end, the trumpet signal behind ones ears to signal rescue at hand was electrifying.
There are no weaknesses in the casting and Yvonne Howard and Alan Oke were in perfect voice; you will not see or hear finer or equally convincing realisations of the challenging roles of Leonora and Florestan in any of the great opera houses of Europe. They encompassed the entire gamut of feeling from despair to jubilation, physically and vocally, heroism and idealism against a backdrop of the sordid daily life of corrupt petty officialdom - one could go on and on about detailed insights of Olivia Fuchs, realised by her gifted singing actors. And everything was directed to focussing our attention, without any gratuitous distraction, upon the glory of Beethoven's score which I have never heard sounding so 'right' overall despite its mix of style.
Has Holland Park Opera appreciated that they have a triumph on their hands which must be preserved on DVD? A live filming, peacocks and all, with a suitable introduction to show the splendid 'high tensile canopy' (illustrated) and its surroundings, and if possible with some of the cuts restored, would make a memorable souvenir and might help to pay for a surtitle system with better visibility?
Fidelio runs until 28 June 2003; box office: 0845 230 9769. There are numerous images of the production to be found at Opera Holland Park's website - an exceptional website, with full programme information for the season - easy to navigate at http://www.operahollandpark.com/
Below is an impression of the tented auditorium from a photocopied review in Guide Magazine 1998 (pre-www; apology for poor image). Cilea's L'Arlesiana seen at Holland Park will be revived there in a new production 3 -18 July; other rarities are Werther & Stiffellio, all of them new productions (You will see from the text that in 1998 surtitles were still in the future.)
© Peter Grahame Woolf