Financial Times, 29 November 2008
Francis Carlin
Beethoven: Fidelio, Paris, 25. November 2008
Which overture? What order of play for the music at the beginning of Act One? Beethoven made so many revisions, opening up possibilities for different formats. Sylvain Cambreling opts to start with the meandering Overture Leonora I, conducting with impressive grandeur but reinforcing the leaden pace of Johan Simons' new production.

Martin Mosebach's new dialogues use didactic sledgehammer tactics and Simons' switch from hyperactivity in the sung parts to gaping pregnant pauses in the spoken exchanges suggest he is unaware that time travels differently in opera. Every good idea is done to death: when Don Pizarro (Alan Held, exceptional) vents his rage on his office chair, he sets it spinning not once or twice but so often it looks risible.

Meanwhile, Leonora (Angela Denoke) is so twitchy that any normal-sighted employee in this modern penitentiary (sets: Jan Versweyveld) would have called the emergency hotline. Denoke, one of the best singing actresses on the circuit, has bigger problems. The role is simply beyond her and her singing is squally and often out of tune. Fidelio can survive at a pinch with a poor Florestan but it sinks with a weak Leonora, the opera's driving force.

Happily, Jonas Kaufmann's Florestan lives up to high expectations, daringly launching the sustained note on his opening exclamation (" Gott !") with a ghostly pianissimo, before turning on the power. The effect is as harrowing as it is beautiful. The rest of the cast is major-league quality.

To finish, the ladies in the chorus celebrate freedom by unbuttoning drab overcoats to reveal garish floral print dresses. A tawdry end to a noble tale.

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