Friday, April 16, 2021

"I shall surely set you free" *offers bread and wine*

Once again, dear readers, I have soothed my weary soul with some amazingly beautiful singing.  Just as in so many of my recent opera posts, this was provided via  a performance of dear Mr. Beethoven's Fidelio.  Current world affairs require keeping everyone at least 6 feet (2 meters) from each other, and this production did not fail in that requirement. However, as with quite a few productions I have seen online in recent months (who goes out of the house now except for groceries, yarn, and liquor?), this restriction was used to great effect by the producers.

The performance was by the Garsington Opera at Wormsley in the UK.  Have a look at this:

Jaquino        Trystan Llŷr Griffiths
Marzelline    Galina Averina
Leonore        Katherine Broderick
Rocco            Stephen Richardson
Don Pizarro    Andrew Foster-Williams
Florestan        Toby Spence
Don Fernando    Richard Burkhard
First Prisoner    Richard Pinkstone
Second Prisoner    Thomas D Hopkinson

Chorus        Garsington Opera Chorus
Orchestra    Philharmonia Orchestra
Music        Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor    Douglas Boyd
Stage Director / Lighting & Projection Designer Peter Mumford
Associate Video Designer William Reynolds
Assistant Conductor & Chorus Master Jonathon Swinard
Assistant Director Cecilia Stinton
Reduced Orchestration Francis Griffin

Leonore is a tremendously challenging role, and I do believe that Katherine Broderick was a very good choice for this production.  Her vocalism and her musicianship were spot-on, and her understanding of a very complex character was quite amazing.  I liked the Rocco of Stephen Richardson, the Marzelline of Galina Averina, and the Jaquino of Trystan Llŷr Griffiths quite a lot.  Mr. Richardson especially played the gentle father figure Rocco, who somehow finds himself in a rather barbaric role, very sympathetically.  

What is it about basses? Why do they think they have to manufacture a sound that will be impressive instead of letting a truly healthy version of the sound God gave them suffice? I don't doubt the artistry of Andrew Foster-Williams (Don Pizzaro), but if my strongest memories from the production are a wobble and a scowl, I'm not sure the artist has achieved success. 

Toby Spence as Florestan
Photo:  Johan Persson

Toby Spence. A lyric tenor I have long admired.  He did a fine job with this role, and I don't mean to suggest otherwise, although the truly dramatic nature of some of the vocal passages did seem a bit beyond his grasp.  I associate him with Tom Rakewell, certain Mozart roles, and the like. The quintessential "English tenor."  I would expect to see a voice like his cast as Jaquino sooner than as Florestan. Yes, I know time will have its way. I'm 58. I'm not unfamiliar with this concept. But even those lyric tenors who have progressed into more italienisch and dramatic territory started out with a sound I don't identify with Mr. Spence. But I haven't kept current with every news item in the opera world in the past few years. I've had a few other matters on my mind. I don't know what he has done since I knew of his Mozart roles at the Met and a few others online. I would in no way say he was a bad Florestan. But remember I studied briefly with James King, one of the finest Florestans of his era.  (Certainly not one of the finest teachers, but I digress.)

The production. This was, of necessity, a concert production, with the 2-meter squares we have come to expect from clever lighting designers. I will say the lighting designer in this case never disappointed and offered occasional insights. In addition, the screen projections behind singers and orchestra were quite effective.  When one could read the text displayed. 

I really liked the quite reduced orchestra under the direction of Douglas Boyd. I was quite often reminded that Beethoven is not nearly so stodgy as I sometimes remember him (certain parts of the 9th symphony), nor as uninspired with voices as I tend to think. (An die Ferne Geliebte.  Genug gesagt!)  

Full cast with lighting effects
Photo:  Johan Persson

I know I sound like a Negative Nelly.   OK, I always sound nelly, but I do sound even more negative than usual in this post.  I really don't want to give that impression. 

When I realized that Leonore and Rocco were offering Florestan bread and wine at the same time they were supposed to be digging his grave, I was in tears. When Leonore revealed her identity and Florestan realized what has happened and very nearly left his 6 ft x 6 ft block, I nearly lost it.  

Did this production move me?  Hell to the yeah, as the young people probably said about 20 years ago.  (Who can keep up?)  Would I recommend it?  Oh yes!  Should you view it?  Didn't I already say yes?!

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