Opera News, April 2010
Beethoven: Fidelio, München, 8 January 2011
Fidelio - MUNICH, Bavarian State Opera, 1/8/11
The genially unpredictable Catalonian director Calixto Bieito's approach to Bavarian State Opera's new production of Beethoven's Fidelio at the Nationaltheater (seen Jan. 8) placed the work's characters in an existential labyrinth, seeking meaning but ultimately lost and unable to find any light at the end of their personal tunnels. Here, life's destiny was determined by chance; hopelessness reigned supreme. The love between Leonore and Florestan was a by-product in Bieito's world. If, indeed, Leonore succeeded in freeing her husband, it was only by a stroke of luck. Bieito made a laughable mockery not only of Beethoven's final paean for freedom but, in point of fact, of the entire work. He also made such unreasonable physical demands of the singers that one might logically ask why the production was not deep-sixed during the rehearsal period. The stage set of Rebecca Ringst consisted of a construction of rising metal and plexiglass compartments, each fronted by an electrified barrier. Only by attaching a current-stopper could one touch the boundaries. The singers were constantly asked to climb from one level to the next, often singing while in motion. The construction itself was acoustical nightmare, sound being forced upward instead of outward. It's astounding how much damage a miserably conceived set can do to healthy voices! Rocco, Pizarro, Marzelline and Jaquino were, at best, mentally unstable. The usual props were banished. Neither Leonore nor Pizarro carried a conventional weapon. Florestan was to be murdered using a canister of acid.

Bieito replaced the standard dialogue with confusingly intellectual spoken interludes from the pen of Jorge Luis Borges. The Fidelio overture was ousted in favor of the "Leonore III," a much better but inordinately longer piece. The slow movement (truncated) of Beethoven's sublime A-minor String Quartet, Op. 132 (played impressively by the Odeon Quartet while absurdly descending in cages) preceded the opera's finale. Unfortunately, the C-major chords of the finale jarred incongruously against the introspective minor strains of the Quartet. The coup de grâce was the portrayal of Don Fernando as Batman's Joker. The Minister, carrying his deck of cards, murdered at will and pardoned Florestan on a whim.

Conductor Daniele Gatti's was a lyric interpretation. Although his reading was rich in subtlety, Gatti effectively removed the dramatic bite from the music, rendering large stretches of the score flaccid. Jonas Kaufmann, costumed in blue pajamas, sang perhaps the best Florestan I have ever heard. His monologue, "Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!" was an object lesson in magnificent singing. Unexplainably, he was asked to climb during the treacherous poco allegro climax of the scene, and this stupid stage demand took its vocal toll on the tenor. Anja Kampe somehow managed in the circumstances to bring a great deal of humanity to her Leonore. At times, a rather unpleasant edge crept into her voice in the upper register, but in general she sang with warm, rounded tone and great feeling. Wolfgang Koch's Pizarro was neither vocally menacing nor dramatically overpowering. Franz-Josef Selig, clutching an attaché-case of money, was a solid Rocco. The set did both Laura Tatulescu (Marzelline) and Jussi Myllys (Jaquino) no favors, reducing reasonably sized instruments to mini-voices. And what was Steven Humes to do — ridiculously dressed and made up as the Joker? To ask a Don Fernando to sing facetiously is to do both interpreter and composer a great disservice.

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