Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Fidelio @ Cadogan Hall, London

17 February 2009

There is a certain kind of opera-goer who loathes any kind of “production”, and would far rather have an evening of stand-and-deliver.

They were out in force last night in Chelsea, where interval chat was about how very nice it was not to have to put up with all that beastly acting.

Such banter vied for one’s attention with that concerning how Bertram had “made quite a good killing, 3% of the selling price, which I don’t mind telling you was 4 mill.” Is this the only place in the world where estate agents are still having such conversations? Possibly, and it’s also quite possibly the last place in the world where doddery buffers clap after every aria, even when the music has not yet finished.

No matter London Lyric Opera’s guest conductor, Madeleine Lovell, delivered a very polished account of Fidelio, and despite a bit of casting imbalance, this was an enjoyable and often moving performance.

How often have you been near to guffawing when Leonora and Florestan sing ecstatically about how they are in each others’ arms once more, but the two singers are actually thirty feet apart? I thought so. On this occasion, it was wonderful to see and hear a pair of protagonists who actually looked as though they had been introduced, nay, more, as though one of them might really have risked death to save the other.

And what a pair of protagonists they were Elizabeth Connell may not have the piercing sweetness of some recent interpreters of the role, but she is a completely credible Fidelio, as gripping in Abscheulicher! as she is tender in O Gott! Welch ein Augenblick!

Her Florestan was the remarkable Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, who scored such a triumph with his Peter Grimes for Opera North: this is a young man who looks as if he might well have ‘Millwall FC’ tattooed somewhere, but sings ‘with his heart on his sleeve.’ Unhewn, is the word which springs to mind about his vocal production, but in this case I’m not sure if one really wants those rough edges smoothed down when the effect is so moving I’ve seldom heard In des Lebens Frhlingstagen sung so affectingly.

Richard Wiegold was an outstanding Rocco, a serious paternal figure rather than the too-frequent buffoon, and he sang his music with burnished tone and real commitment. Andrew Staples as Jaquino added yet another winning characterization to his growing list, and Paul Goodwin-Groen was a magisterial Don Fernando. Both solo prisoners (Nicky Spence and Charles Gibbs) held the ear, and the combined forces of the Philharmonia Chorus and Queens’ College Chapel Choir gave rousing impersonations of the group of prisoners.

James Hancock was too light-voiced for Pizarro, but the opposite applied to the Marzelline of Rachel Nicholls, who might have been auditioning for Brnnhilde.

The RPO played with gusto for Lovell, who clearly loves this music and has her own vision of how it must be presented, that is as a great Romantic gesture which yet retains its classical heritage. There was some very fine playing, especially in the horn obbligato in Komm, Hoffnung and the strings in O namenlse Freude. A stirring performance, enabling us to anticipate The London Lyric Opera’s forthcoming Die Fledermaus with pleasure.

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Fidelio @ Cadogan Hall, London