The Guardian/Observer, 23 August 2015
Fiona Maddocks
Beethoven: Fidelio, Salzburger Festspiele, 4. August 2015
Salzburg festival 2015
Jonas Kaufmann in Fidelio was just one star attraction at glitzy Salzburg.
Jonas Kaufmann, currently one of the most revered names in the classical world, hurled himself across the stage, writhing and rolling and stopping just short of the orchestra pit where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – another of the most revered etcetera – nearly found the alluring German tenor in their laps. Some of the players might have enjoyed that (in this male-heavy orchestra there are now at least two women). Kaufmann was singing the role of Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio, one of several new productions and decidedly the most argued about, at the 2015 Salzburg festival.

Fidelio has a special association with Salzburg. “This is the opera which, thanks to the music of Beethoven, gives us comfort and courage,” observed Wilhelm Furtwängler when he conducted it there in the dark postwar era of 1948. The German director Claus Guth, who had success at Covent Garden with his Die Frau ohne Schatten last year, brought some of his Freudian preoccupations to Fidelio, in stern, handsome designs by Christian Schmidt. Not everyone was pleased, to say the least. Kaufmann excelled, with a first entry, in the darkness of the dungeon (“Gott! Welch dunkel hier”), of miraculous frailty. The production had its merits, but good ideas fought with seriously silly ones: Guth needs a strong music director to rein him in. Semyon Bychkov, who conducted Frau in London, may have proved a tougher foil than Franz Welser-Möst in Salzburg.

Dialogue has been cut (allowable) and replaced by amplified noises of breathing, clanking, drowning and other ambient sounds (allowable in moderation but here overdone). Leonora, triumphantly sung by Adrianne Pieczonka, has a doppelganger who emotes and distracts (kill her please). Welser-Möst, whose tempi were uneven, now sluggish, now rushed, brought the orchestra to sudden, blazing life in the Leonora No 3 overture, inserted into the middle of Act 2. The action is set not in a prison but in an elegant, empty room, with looming shadow play: Alice in Wonderland meets early German expressionist cinema. At the end, Beethoven’s sense of redemption is replaced by alienation and confusion. Guth has said that we are in Freud’s “salon of the unconscious” and that he wanted to “avoid any clarity and any one-dimensionality” from the beginning. I guess he succeeded.

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