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Thread: Fidelio at the Cincinnati Opera

          
   
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  1. #1
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Fidelio at the Cincinnati Opera

    http://www.cincinnatiopera.org/

    Proctor and Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts
    7 July 2016

    Music by Ludwig van Beethoven; libretto by Joseph Sonnleitner and Georg Friedrich Treitschke, after Jean-Nicolas Bouilly

    Conductor: Jun Märkl
    Stage Director: Chris Alexander
    Set Designer: Robert Dahlstrom
    Costume designer: Rebecca Senske
    Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi
    Lighting director: Thomas Hase
    Fight director: Gina Cerimele-Meckley
    Hair/make-up designer: James Geier
    Production stage manager: Megan Bennett
    Supertitles author: Jonathan Dean, Seattle Opera

    Cast:
    Leonore (Fidelio): Christine Goerke
    Florestan: Russell Thomas
    Don Pizarro: Nmon Ford
    Rocco: Nathan Stark
    Marzelline: Laura Tatulescu
    Jaquino: Thomas Blondelle
    Don Fernando: Daniel Sutin
    First Prisoner: Chorus Member (not identified)
    Second Prisoner: John Tibbets

    I’m afraid I wasn’t looking forward to this performance with the happy anticipation with which I awaited the CO’s 1980 production with Johanna Meier and John Alexander in the leads and especially the March, 1981, New Orleans Opera production with Teresa Kubiak and Siegfried Jerusalem. My strong dislike of the past century’s practice of “Wagnerizing” Fidelio by casting the two leads with heavy Hochdramatische voices is probably (too well) known in this forum, so I’m not going to launch into another one of my “Beethoven isn’t Wagner” rants. With regard to Christine Goerke’s Leonore, I will simply observe that there were plenty of people in the audience yesterday evening who obviously loved her singing, and leave it at that. With his attractive spinto tenor, Russell Thomas’ lyrical Florestan was much more to my taste. He acquitted himself honorably in his big aria, including a Kaufmann-esque crescendo on the world “Gott!,” though there’s no disguising this piece’s difficulty. His German diction sounded fairly idiomatic in the spoken dialogue, but not so much when he was singing. And when a singer doesn’t have a photo model physique I normally don’t comment, because I normally consider it irrelevant. In this case, Mr. Thomas certainly didn’t look as though he’d spent the past two years on a starvation diet; however, I was so happy and relieved to hear a voice I enjoyed in this role that I was pretty much beyond the point of caring how emaciated he did or didn’t appear. From Nmon Ford’s brief biography in the program, I would have expected him to be a bass-baritone in view of other roles in his repertoire. However, he struck me as a genuine baritone, something his slightly weak low register seemed to bear out, but his voice has a warm, commanding quality and is capable of suggesting Pizarro’s villainy. Nathan Stark brought a wonderful, rich bass to Rocco, and there was an outstanding “second couple” in Thomas Blondelle (Jaquino) and Laura Tatulescu (Marzelline). Daniel Sutin made the most of Don Fernando’s relatively brief appearance, and kudos are also due to the choristers who sang the First and Second Prisoners. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent Cincinnati Opera Chorus as well The spoken dialogue was sensibly edited, and considering that none of the soloists is a native German speaker, they all delivered the text very idiomatically. Munich native Jun Märkle, who has conducted at such major international houses as the Royal Opera, Met, and the State Operas of Vienna, Munich, and Hamburg, was on the podium of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and led an old school, large-scale reading of Beethoven’s partitur – to the point that he occasionally let the orchestra nearly swamp the soloists. The brass also sounded unusually prominent during the overture, though I don’t know whether that had something to do with the fact that I was seated toward the front of the auditorium. I’m not certain, either, whose idea it was to have the singers exaggerate the emphasis on certain (sung) words, at times almost distorting the musical line. Less might have been more here.
    Where Chris Alexander’s staging is concerned, I was rather surprised to see a fight director listed among the production credits in the program. Fight?? I can’t think of any fights in Fidelio, aside from Jürgen Flimm’s idea to have Florestan grab a dagger and go after Pizarro in the final scene of the Zürich Opera’s 2004 production. And in fact, there were no fights in this production, either. The program notes also indicated that the time period would be updated to the present day (or at least the recent past), something I’m not that crazy about, but I figured watching this would be good practice for coping with Claus Guth’s goofiness when I receive the DVD recording of last year’s Salzburg Festival Fidelio (which shipped 30 June and should be arriving soon). If I were honest, I’d also admit that the “traditional” early 19th century setting is also an updating; Beethoven and his librettists intended the action to take place in the 16th century (which is why some 19th century illustrations show Leonore in doublet and hose). For the most part, Mr. Alexander’s approach did no real violence to the plot or characters (Florestan wasn’t killed or didn’t drop dead at the end, as in some Regietheater productions), but one could never accuse him of subtlety. Prisoners were beaten, prisoners were dragged screaming across the stage, Pizarro pulled a gun on Rocco, Rocco pulled a gun on Pizarro (more of that in a bit), one of the townspeople waved a huge flag with “Freiheit” (Freedom) emblazoned on it . . . The march that accompanies Pizarro’s arrival sounded as though it was a recording being played over prison speakers rather than emanating from the orchestra pit, and instead of the governor showing up, prisoners were paraded out and, following shrill blasts of a whistle, stripped down to their underwear and then dressed again. Charming ritual . . . With choristers in their skivvies, I almost suspected Martin Kušej of having a hand in the proceedings. And was that whistle irritating! After about the fourth or fifth blast, I was ready to grab the thing and do something not very nice to Mr. Alexander with it. (Hey, Mary, tell us how you really feel!) In the dungeon scene, Pizarro had a pistol instead of a dagger, and after Leonore confronted him with her own weapon, it appeared as though there was a stalemate, with Pizarro targeting Florestan and Leonore targeting Pizarro. This was resolved after the second trumpet call when Rocco finally summoned his courage and grabbed the governor’s gun. This certainly made the jailor a more sympathetic figure, but I felt it also somewhat diminished the significance of Leonore’s action – she really was no longer the sole rescuer of her husband (though it was her initial act that prompted Rocco’s final intervention). There is a reason, after all, that Don Fernando changes his mind in the final scene and has Leonore rather than Pizarro unlock her husband’s chains. This was one of those occasions when I really wished the director would have trusted the librettist/s more.
    And now I think I’ll go watch the Zürich Opera video with my “dream team” of Nylund and Kaufmann.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Involved Member Nemorino's Avatar
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    I worked on a student short film that had a fight director, and was really impressed with the breadth of things they can get involved with. For instance, they would have coached both the guards and the prisoners in how to make beatings look violent without getting hurt. And they would also have instructed actors on how to hold weapons like they know how to use them (or not, if that's more appropriate to the character). Useful tools for the actors. More useful sometimes than the actual director!

  3. #3
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MAuer View Post
    http://www.cincinnatiopera.org/
    There is a reason, after all, that Don Fernando changes his mind in the final scene and has Leonore rather than Pizarro unlock her husband’s chains. This was one of those occasions when I really wished the director would have trusted the librettist/s more..
    Oh, good grief -- of course I meant Rocco. That would have been interesting punishment for the prison governor to compel him to liberate his hated enemy . . .

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