Financial Times, August 17, 2015
George Loomis
Beethoven: Fidelio, Salzburger Festspiele, 4. August 2015
Fidelio, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg Festival
In spite of full-bodied playing and gorgeous singing, Claus Guth’s production is stilted and sterile
It all takes place in an attractive but unfurnished and windowless panelled room devoid of props. Eerie noises, including heavy breathing and ominous rumblings, replace the opera’s spoken dialogue, which is completely excised. Two of the characters are paired with silent doubles, one of whom intermittently communicates by signing. The lighting (by Olaf Freese) is more sinister than dramatically apt. And Florestan, the political prisoner whose rescue by his heroic wife Leonore constitutes the shining moment of Enlightenment-inspired opera, drops dead at the final curtain.

These are some of the ways Claus Guth’s sterile new production, with sets and costumes by Christian Schmidt, drains Beethoven’s robust opera of its red blood. There are musical rewards, though, chief among them full-bodied playing by the Vienna Philharmonic under Franz Welser-Möst’s inspiring leadership; their rousing interpolation of the Leonore Overture No. 3 was the evening’s high point. A close second was Jonas Kaufmann’s gorgeously sung Florestan. His first note began with a disembodied pianissimo that slowly swelled to a vigorous fortissimo, although that came off as a neat vocal trick compared to the hearty cry on the word “Gott!” Beethoven was after. Much less successful were the jerky movements Kaufmann was called upon to make to suggest the character’s paranoia, an affliction contradicted by the heroic diction of Florestan’s every utterance. It reminded me of Guth’s misguided La Scala 2012 production of Lohengrin, in which Kaufmann’s knight was treated as an anti-hero.

Apart from a couple of high notes that went askew, Adrianne Pieczonka was an impassioned, believable Leonore in voice and deed; given the stilted acting around her, you thought maybe she didn’t get the memo. As the villainous Don Pizarro, Tomasz Konieczny sang strongly, unfazed by the role’s awkward tessitura. Hans-Peter König was a sonorous presence as the jailer Rocco but looked like a bank officer. A programme essay left one in the dark about what Guth was up to, except to suggest that, as Fidelio was subjected to heavy revision before the score reached its final form, directors have the right to experiment. An audience paying up to €430 a ticket deserves better.

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