The opera critic
|by Moore Parker
Beethoven: Fidelio, Salzburger Festspiele, 4. August 2015
A Fidelio that is a shadow of its true worth
On paper, this Fidelio boasted an optimistic line-up as the third and final
new opera production at this year's Salzburg Festival - expectations that
however were to remain unassuaged as the final curtain fell.
Monumental in proportions, the sets in oppressive 19th century pomp,
dominate a cast isolated within their individual cognitive dungeons,
negotiating their paths through the storyline around the physical and
symbolic obstacle of an enormous monolithic block which towers stage centre
and later serves to reveal Florestan’s - and indeed humanity’s -
self-imposed and inevitable necropolis. The block’s transformation into a
gigantic crystal chandelier in the finale benefits none of the suffering
Clever lighting (Olaf Freese) creates powerful
shadows which interact more intimately than their creators, while
transporting a stark and barren message devoid of hope or redemption.
Claus Guth and his team proceed from their Salzburg da Ponte trilogy to
Beethoven’s masterpiece with a familiar formula - an essentially black and
white setting, plus the creation of additional “figures” to augment or
represent chosen leading protagonists in their alter egos.
polarised representatives of good and evil, Fidelio (Adrianne Pieczonka) and
Don Pizarro (Tomasz Konieczny) are each doubled - the former’s “Leonore”
identity is communicated via sign language by Nadia Kichler, while Pizarro
is shadowed by a dancer (Paul Lorenger) who embodies both perpetrator and
victim in mirroring the villain’s motives and failings. The result, however,
is that both singers’ interpretations sadly suffer from the irritating
distraction of the superfluous personae and their meanderings. All spoken
dialogue has been replaced by a variety of sound effects (Torsten
Ottersberg) - generally in the form of foreboding rumblings, occasionally
mixed with breathing and other human utterances.
intent, the overall impression remains static and leaden throughout the
evening. Ultimately, this is a Fidelio which offers no salvation or element
of joy - least of all for Florestan who is hopelessly traumatised, and who
collapses and expires during the final bars of the opera.
say that the production team was roundly booed from all corners of the
In contrast, it was conductor Franz Welser-Möst and his forces
in the pit (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) whose accolades exceeded even
those of the evening’s star vocalists - albeit also underscored by the
occasional protest “boo”.
With a cast modest in power (the days of
Nilsson and Vickers are no more) for this venue’s proportions, the pit
(possibly raised higher than ideal) somewhat dominated rather than
harmonised, occasionally at odds in tempo with the stage, and too often
leaning toward alacrity and spectacle rather than poise - subsequently
detracting from the customary detail and finesse for which this ensemble is
Jonas Kaufmann shone out among the soloists with his
intensely focused and musically rounded Florestan. His exemplary diction and
legato paired with seamless dynamic control and negotiation of registers
remain testimony to this artist’s technical prowess and considered
execution, arguably now at the height of his powers.
Pieczonka brings a certain noblesse to her Fidelio. However, her vocal
delivery is somewhat erratic - with assets unquestionably in the role’s more
lyrical moments, but with the score’s dramatic passages revealing duress
which culminates in occasional intonation issues at the top of her range.
Konieczny presented an intensely snarling Don Pizarro, well articulated,
and with comfortable vocal reserves.
Rocco, a grand and
self-righteous capitalist with silver-topped cane is here left to despair of
his avaricious fixation in the finale’s shower of bank notes. In his
Salzburg debut, Hans-Peter König - vocally solid, if a shade lightweight in
timbre - ideally suited the production’s concept in stature and demeanour.
Olga Bezsmertna brought lyrical ease to Marzelline, nicely
complimenting Norbert Ernst’s even-scaled and suitably parched Jacquino.
Sebastian Holecek is a sympathetic - if atypical - Don Fernando, rather
lacking in the ideal vocal sonority to crown the role’s aphoristic