Giornale della musica
Alessandro Di Profio (translation by Alexander Martin)
Beethoven: Fidelio, Paris, 25 Novembre 2008
A lightless 'Fidelio'
Even with Jonas Kaufmann, 'Fidelio' at the Palais Garnier is a disappointment. The chef d'orchestre is largely to blame.
'Fidelio' had not been staged at the Opéra National de Paris for twenty-five years. So expectations ran high, and were further reinforced by the presence of Jonas Kaufmann, a new star in the glittering world of tenors. Yet perplexity set in from the opening bars of the ouverture ('Leonore I') which quickly changed to disappointment and, in the end, frustration. But everything should have worked. After all, the cast was of an exceptional level. Kaufmann was simply perfect: nothing to say about his sensual timbre, capable of a captivating legato, or about his range of colours that goes from pathetic to heroic and from pianissimo to a never-shouted forte. He is good at everything: even at singing lying down almost on his stomach. He is so good that we almost forget he is a singer. Paul Gay assists him masterfully. Alan Held is also convincing. Relegated to second roles, Julia Kleiter and Franz-Josef Selig do not manage to pass unobserved. Angela Denoke provides a decorous interpretation of Leonore, but does not compare to the others. Johan Simons's direction opts for a setting in a modern prison. He does not succeed in using light – so crucial in 'Fidelio' – to create a real contrast: the choristers who end up dressed in flowery clothes is an idea that succeeds only in making the public laugh. And the video surveillance of the prisoners creates incoherence that touches on nonsense: why would Leonore doubt that Florestan was still alive if he can be seen on video? In short, chaotic direction that adds nothing to the original libretto. Unfortunately, worst of all is the orchestra under Sylvain Cambreling's conducting. The conductor removes all dramatic tension from the score, and wreaks havoc on Beethoven's structure, which is suffocated by a heavy and clumsy performance.

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