The Royal Opera’s new production of Fidelio, borrowed from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, is dominated by a strong and nuanced performance by Karita Mattila as the faithful wife with a mission.
With her characteristic bright and beautiful tone, near-perfect for Beethoven’s angelic heroine, she shines in every scene.
In the pit, Antonio Pappano directs a fast and efficient performance of the triumphant score while, above him, the strengths of Jrgen Flimm‘s staging ebb and flow.
The contrast between the prison warden’s home and the austerity of his workplace is marked. We see a set of steps decorated with potted plants and a table and chairs projecting domesticity and a little warmth into the grim surroundings of the prison yard. There’s a strong sense of a simple home life played out within the confines of an inhumane institution and political reality.
“Wahre liebe frchtet nicht” (True love fears nothing) is scrawled like graffiti across the frontcloth. What’s so strong about Mattila’s interpretation is that we can clearly see the pain she suffers at her deception of those who love and trust her. Leonora’s bravery lies in her determination to pursue her goal no matter what difficulties she encounters and who may get hurt in the process. The end the rescue of a husband unjustly imprisoned and facing a possible death sentence – is more important than the means.
These are ordinary people trying to make the best of extraordinary circumstances. The storyline and the relationship between the quartet is very clearly played out, with convincing performances and fine singing by Ailish Tynan and Robert Murray as Marzelline and Jaquino and Eric Halvarson as the prison warden Rocco.
Mattila is a tall and masculine Fidelio, whose habit of concealing things money she steals into her rucksack, a wedding ring, a gun she slips into her boot – is the sort of detail that makes Flimm’s direction of the early scenes quite compelling.
Less successful are the more grandiose aspects of the opera, such as his handling of the later crowd scenes. The release of the prisoners’ chorus is not helped by a set that gives little feeling that these are men being freed into the open air after a long incarceration and the final chorus just doesn’t convince it’s anything other than a group of ladies and gents in fancy dress looking as though they’re enjoying themselves at a provincial race meeting. Their communal brandishing of knives at Pizzaro, as he’s spirited away in disgrace, jars in its inappropriateness and poor execution.
Norwegian baritone Terje Stensvold as the prison governer is excellent in the early scenes, a sinister sadist in a suit, but his acting falls apart in the second act during a clumsily staged confrontation with Leonora and Florestan.
As the latter, Endrik Wottrich, in his Royal Opera debut, is a strong light dramatic tenor but by the time of his appearance the production seems to be losing its way somewhat. His dungeon is grim enough, a dank industrial basement with piles of luggage and shoes (overtones of the holocaust), but it gives way to an unconvincing painted backcloth as the stage opens up for the final scene.
At the first performance, Pappano conducted a sublime quartet but little else that particularly impressed, the final scenes rather jaunty and lacking in grandeur, although the last chorus packed a punch. This is a welcome new production of the opera but it has to be said a mixed performance that is ultimately worth catching for Mattila alone.