“Fidelio” is Beethoven’s only opera. It took 11 years (1803-1814) and multiple revisions to cobble into its final form, which may explain why there is no other opera by Beethoven.
The plot – concerning the search of the heroine Leonora (disguised as a young man, “Fidelio”) for her wrongfully imprisoned husband, and his last-minute rescue from the dungeon and death – might well have been intended as a rebuttal to Mozart’s slyly adulterous “Cosi fan Tutte.”
“Fidelio,” in contrast, is both a credo for political freedom and Beethoven’s passionate imagining of an undivided, faithful love which would release him from the prison of his own isolation.
“Fidelio” – staged by Opera Carolina for two more performances Thursday and Sunday – was last presented here in a concert performance in 2004 by the CSO under Christoph Perick. It was a worthy effort, but this “Fidelio” gains by the staging, and the increased maturity of the orchestra itself. James Meena conducted “Fidelio” with a fine awareness of the score’s many pregnant details, and a rhythmic flexibility which gave the instrumental writing the effect of human utterance.
The whole opera hinges on the role of Leonora/“Fidelio,” which Maria Katzarava sang with dauntless courage, and a skill that conceals itself in the service of the music. “Fidelio” is one of Opera’s most famous “trouser roles,” and in this case the military uniform that Katzarava wore might easily have reduced the role to absurdity, but her level of commitment out-stared this handicap.
She just kept getting better and better.
Andrew Richards, the Florestan (called “Kurt Wismach” in this production) sang his great aria “Gott! Welch’ Dunkel hier!” with a flawless sweetness that did not quite do justice to his character’s agony. Florestan/Wismach has been more or less buried alive for several years, after all.
Andrew Funk brought warmth and affability to the role of the jailer Rocco. Kyle Pfortmiller was suitably twitchy with the repressed dementia of his blackhearted character, Pizarro (here called “Walter Ulbrich”). Raquel Suarez Groen’s Marzelline was a bit reedy on opening night.
Brian Arreola’s Jaquino (here called “Chris Gueffroy” ) was well acted and sung.
The contribution of the chorus and the two prisoner-soloists in the first act chorus “O weiche Lust!” is deeply moving. This is the moment where Beethoven most directly expressed his keenest hope for the liberty of all humankind , and the chorus rose to the occasion.
This “Fidelio” is set in East Germany immediately before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a premise, this seems apt. But the concept was carried too far. The retrofitting of the characters’ names and the spoken dialogue to conform to this directorial concept seemed callow, and the use in the interludes of presidential speeches about the Berlin Wall from JFK and Ronald Reagan was intrusive.
It is one thing to set “ Fidelio” at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and quite another to make “ Fidelio” about the fall of the Berlin Wall, which this production broaches. This has the effect of making something great into something lesser. The freedom that Beethoven envisions is something more.