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In Review Madrid Fidelio hdl 815
König and Pieczonka in Madrid’s Fidelio
© Javier del Real 2015

This production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, by Italian director, set and costume designer and architect Pier’Alli, opened the first season at Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in 2006. The financial crisis had not yet struck Spain, the money supply seemed boundless and Valencia saw fit to contract not one but two top-level conductors: Lorin Maazel and Zubin Mehta. In 2006, Mehta led a starry cast, headed by Waltraud Meier’s Leonore, in a dark, visually creative production that featured what was to be one of the main characteristics in the new theater — imposing three-dimensional video projections. 

Now the Pier’Alli production has come to Madrid (seen June 2). In a new era of economic duress, the Spanish theaters are sensibly sharing productions: this year, Valencia saw Madrid’s Don Pasquale and Doña Francisquita and Madrid welcomed Barcelona’s La Traviata and Death in Venice. In any event, the Madrid premiere offered a welcome occasion to revisit this serious, bold take on Beethoven’s drama of conjugal love and the fight against oppression.   

Pier’Alli’s ominous vision includes horrible torture instruments as props in Act I, an almost totally pitch-dark dungeon in Act II and a skillful depiction of Piranesi-like prison halls and walls in motion at the end of the piece. Pier’Alli’s architectural mind works much better with the visual imagery than with the movements of singers, but the stark mise-en-scéne made for an impressive evening, albeit a very gloomy one. 

Adrianne Pieczonka sang a commendable Leonore, but her voice, now more used to Wagner and Strauss roles, tripped up in the lighter moments of the role, especially in the fast roulades of “Abscheulicher!” Michael König’s clarion voice fared well in Florestan’s aria, and soprano and tenor joined forces for a memorable “O namenlose Freude.”  Franz-Josef Selig produced a wonderfully nuanced, grainy-voiced Rocco, Anett Fritsch’s Marzelline led the canon quartet and the Act II finale with a fine, fresh, light soprano, and Ed Lyon succeeded in the unrewarding role of Jaquino. Alan Held gave his Don Pizarro a ferocious, dark character ideally suited to this production, and Goran Juric΄ rounded the action off with a strong, focused Don Fernando. 

Maestro Hartmut Haenchen conducted a muscular, traditional reading and was responsible for the most daring and discussed decision in this revival: instead of separating the last two scenes with one of the several versions of Beethoven’s overture (e.g. Leonore I, as Mehta did, or Leonore II, the favorite of Barenboim), Haenchen ended the dungeon scene by jumping into the third and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. 

With the last notes of the symphony, the music of the opera resumed, the Piranesi walls and chains started moving on the screen, and we were back in Fidelio. The interruption to the action went on too long for my taste, but the daring use of the music was entirely consistent with the spirit of Beethoven. In an era when stage directors are allowed any number of changes and personal choices in creating an opera production, it was refreshing that in this case it was a conductor who diverged from established tradition. spacer


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