Financial Times, December 22 2010
By Shirley Apthorp
Beethoven: Fidelio, Bayerische Staatsoper, 21. Dezember 2010
Fidelio, Bavarian State Opera, Munich
Rape, murder, raw alcohol – nihilistic Catalan stage director Calixto Bieito’s signature tropes are his stock-in-trade. But how would he work them into Beethoven’s Fidelio? In the lead-up to his debut at the Bavarian State Opera, the Munich press predicted storms of boos even before the event.

We did not have to wait long. Early in their first duet, Jaquino begins to rape Marzelline. She then smears her face with lipstick, another Bieito hallmark. Later, Rocco drinks schnapps from the bottle, and forces the alcohol down Florestan’s throat. Pizarro merely brandishes his knife. It is Don Fernando who most glories in sadism, outfitted as the Joker from Batman and shooting Florestan.

In fact, the violence that viewers have come to expect from Bieito was so muted that it became almost incidental in this Fidelio. Some heckling from the audience accompanied Bieito’s long interpolated scenes, but conductor Daniele Gatti earned more explicit boos than the director. What had been billed as shocking turned out to be simply abstruse.

Rebecca Ringst has constructed a huge labyrinth for this Fidelio, an Escher-esque prison of the mind in which all the characters are trapped. Bieito and his team have replaced Sonnleithner’s spoken dialogue with oblique quotes from Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, the gist of which is none of us is free. There is no utopia in this grim vision of Beethoven’s “freedom” opera.

Ringst’s set, exquisitely lit by Reinhard Traub, is beautiful, associative and loud. The physicality of Bieito’s agile supernumeraries as they clamber about an open cage comes at the price of endless clanks and bangs. It is hard to work out what Bieito is trying to say.

Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan is the main drawcard. He does not disappoint, scaling the main aria’s terrifying heights. Anja Kampe is a Leonore of impressive vocal stature. Wolfgang Koch and Franz-Josef Selig are endearingly seedy as Pizarro and Rocco. The chorus is strong. Gatti’s direction has structure and punch. It is not revelatory, but the booing seems unnecessarily brutal.

 back top