Opera Now, July/August 2015
Courtney Smith
Beethoven: Fidelio, Teatro alla Scala, Milano, 10. Dezember 2014
Fidelio - La Scala
The inauguration of La Scala's 2015/16 season last December brought a new staging of Beethoven's Fidelio by Deborah Warner. All the usual suspects were in attendance: yawning politicians, bejewelled Milanese grandees and chanting protesters silenced by heavy-booted police. The production served as Daniel Barenboim's swansong as La Scala's music director (since 2011), as well as induction of the new general and artistic director, Alexander Pereira, who succeeded Stéphane Lissner last September.

Warner's staging alluded to landscapes of destruction and dilapidation of the 21st century, especially the man-made traumas in a post-9/11 world. Chloe Obolensky's sets were grim shelters dug into post-apocalyptic voids. Act I took place in a detention centre surrounded by brick walls, crumbling concrete and exposed metal. Act II moved the action to a frigid, subterranean wasteland, strewn with toppled concrete. Costumes had institutional overtones: combat boots, utilitarian jumpsuits, pragmatic denim and flannel work-shirts. Jean Kalman's atmospheric lighting cast cold, unforgiving washes over the stage, with beams of light cleaved into sinister shafts or delivered as dramatic coups.

Mellow and flexible in her singing, Anja Kampe's Leonore managed to effect a convincingly masculine air, bulked up in a navy jumpsuit and ribbed wool cap. In her quest to find her lost husband, she transformed herself from an aloof industrial workman to a heroic freedom fighter, wielding a pistol and bolt-cutters (to free Florestan from his chains).

Rocco (meticulously sung by Kwangchul Youn, dressed in a Fair Isle sweater and carrying a thermos of vodka) was infused with humanity. His kittenish, feisty daughter Marzelline (Mojca Erdmann, vocally pleasant and unfussy) gave a round slap across the cheek to sullen, impudent Jaquino (an engaging Florian Hoffmann). Peter Mattei made a compelling and authoritative Don Fernando. For the second performance, none other than Jonas Kaufmann stood in for Klaus Florian Vogt's ailing Florestan. The audience was treated to his lustrous, charismatic tenor voice whose beautifully focused pianissimo pierced the darkness of this production's netherworld.

Fat on beauty and transcendence, but thin on agitation and energy, Barenboim gave us a serene, rather buttoned-up interpretation, from the leisurely pace of the Leonore Overture No 2 through to the buoyant finale.

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