Por Beethoven. A brief history of recent productions of his only opera, Fidelio, originally located in an 18th-century prison, is to include the following: a spaceship speeding toward fate (director Gary Hill, Lyon Opera / Edinburgh); a fluorescent Kafka-esque labyrinth (Calixto Bieito, ENO); a white room designating Freud’s âliving room of the unconsciousâ (Claus Guth, Salzburg); and a real horse (Tobias Kratzer, Royal Opera House). Glyndebourne’s last staging, by Deborah Warner, in a more modest, relevant, and arguably most powerful way, featured an ironing board and clothesline.
Now Visit of Glyndebourne has a new production, directed by Frederic Wake-Walker and directed by Ben Glassberg. He also has ideas, although none are like the above. Originally planned for the main festival, it is presented under the aegis of the Glyndebourne Tour, but does not confusedly take the road – it is all part of the backlog and compromise caused by the pandemic.
The opera is perceived (not by all of us) as an eccentric: too symphonic, not dramatic, unbalanced and, for a non-German speaking audience, embarrassed by awkward dialogues. It also celebrates marital love, which is not for everyone. Few directors are brave enough to trust this work of genius on its own terms. They fiddle with, cut, add, reinvent. The new staging of Glyndebourne has the great advantage of taking place, in the drawings of Anna Jones, with lighting by Peter Mumford, in a prison. It looks striking, even though it is relentlessly dark until the very end, when sheets of crumpled gold cloth symbolize the triumphant forces of light.
A braced panopticon, like an empty gasometer, dominates. The choir of prisoners in white robes (excellently sung) stands on its various steps as if suspended like angels. All of this is promising, but there are problems. Everyone is seen, but does not see. To drive the point home, large immersive video images are shown on the bare openwork structure. The visuals turn, flicker and confuse. This essentially simple story is difficult to follow. Anyone new to this field might have wished for more clarity, less interference; Come to think of it, it could be achieved.
This is not the first time that the dialogue has been cut off. The biggest intrusion is an invented character, Estella (Gertrude Thoma), who tells a fictional storyline that I couldn’t fully follow. When Estella speaks over music, our patience is tested. Beethoven is so inventive with the orchestration – the second night, well performed by the musicians of the Glyndebourne Tour, with a lot of beauty and vitality – that you don’t want to miss a note.
The singing was accomplished, and in the case of Dorothea Herbert, the German soprano playing Leonore, exceptional, passionate, soaring. Adam Smith as Florestan struggled with the ruthless top notes, but gave a touching performance. Gavan Ring’s unusually thoughtful Jaquino, Carrie-Ann Williams’ brilliantly voiced Marzelline and Callum Thorpe’s nuanced Rocco, too often made of fish, led an accomplished cast and chorus.
Glyndebourne Tour, by December, will visit four venues with two operas (Stravinsky’s The progress of the rake and Donizetti Don Pasquale) and Handel Messiah. You can also see, at base camp only, Charlie Chaplin’s comedy City lights (1931) accompanied live by the Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra.
While Beethoven, in his singular way, gives you everything you need, Chaplin’s silent films are actually incomplete without music to provide emphasis and shade. Kings Place projected its The immigrant (1917) as part of his piano festival in London last weekend. Gabriela Monterothe program of centered on the theme of exile, with music by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. Above all, it gave the Venezuelan pianist a platform to make her own and brilliant live accompaniment of the Chaplin, compressing all possible sounds and styles, spiritual and communicative, in a breathtaking improvisation.
She may have acted on this slapstick comedy before (in which, as my meticulous American companion pointed out, the Statue of Liberty is on the wrong side, so these “arrivals” are actually leaving New York Harbor), but each time it’s new. As she had told us beforehand, she had no idea where the music would go, or even what note it would start on. Not all musicians can improvise, and few can do it with this degree of mastery and invention. Montero included echoes of the Prokofiev (Sarcasms, leading directly to Piano Sonata No. 2) and Rachmaninoff (Piano Sonata No. 2) which she had performed earlier in the recital. In these works, she is dazzling but sometimes inflexible. In her own music, she touched the heart – and the funny bone.
Ratings (out of five)
Gabriela Montero ??