Royal Albert Hall
Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
Timothy Robinson (Jaquino), Lisa Milne (Marzelline), Reinhard Hagen (Rocco), Charlotte Margiono (Leonore), Steven Page (Don Pizarro), James Elliott (First prisoner), Rodney Clarke (Second prisoner), Kim Begley (Florestan), Alan Opie (Don Fernando)
Simon Rattle (conductor), Deborah Warner (director)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Glyndebourne Chorus
Fidelio is in more than one sense a high point of romanticism, so it's easy to forget that it's also a Singspiel, a piece of popular entertainment with songs. With its explicit revolutionary political themes in a boy-and-girl-adventure plot, you could see it as a point of transition between Schickaneder's fantastic popular theatre and Brecht's up-front critiques in song and plot of conventional morality. Rocco's aria Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben is not too far from several of Brecht's money songs, Rocco's moral compromises would be at home in the leftish drama of Weimar Germany, as would Leonore's compassionate heroism.
This semi-staged performance is based on the production in the current Glyndebourne Festival, but as ever at Glyndebourne, it is far from giving comfortable opera goers what they expect. Simon Rattle and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment played the music as if it were Mozart, and moved it along energetically, leaving no room for romantic wallowing in either sound or expression. The costumes and vestigial set were twentieth-century kitchen sink, piles of laundry and enamelled office furniture, but Deborah Warner's production skilfully negotiated the divide between realistic emotion and alienating stand-and-deliver musicianship. There were a couple of director's touches at the end: Pizarro is lynched, and Don Fernando doesn't seem to notice or care; and Marzelline runs off in tears instead of getting back together with Jaquino. The first perhaps highlights the implausibility of Don Fernando's role: if he is so humane and committed to the rule of law, why hasn't he rumbled Don Pizarro sooner? The second of course makes sense in realistic terms, though it makes Marzelline far too prominent a character. But overall, the production and particularly the characterizations made sense.
Charlotte Margiono was a chunky Leonore, a bit hollow of voice, but with plenty of sympathy, passion and commitment, a sort of operatic Kathy Burke (or Kathy Bates for that matter). Her Abscheulicher was more focussed, understated even, than some, but very moving. Lisa Milne's presence and vocal style as Marzelline came close to justifying the focus on her at the end. Dressed in jeans and a check shirt, she actually didn't look that different from Margiono's Fidelio apart from the latter's woolly hat. Milne's controlled forcefulness suggested that she might have the makings of a Leonore herself, though it would be a shame to lose such a fine Handel and contemporary-music soprano to big-voice roles.
Kim Begley as Florestan sported a fine grizzled beard and a magnificent Heldentenor voice. Like Margiono, he perhaps even benefited in his performance from not looking remotely heroic. The pair of them were real people up against unspeakable circumstances, and Steven Page's Pizarro in particular. Not since Penhaligon cornered Jimmy Beck have so many people thought "Shoot him" all at once. Page, Opera North's Sweeney Todd a couple of years ago, does complex evil superbly and also has a terrific, electrifying voice. Reinhard Hagen's Rocco, in contrast, was gentle and sad, and sang beautifully in spite of feeling unwell. If his apparent weariness wasn't acting, it was still appropriate to a conventional man who doesn't want to harm anybody but also doesn't want to disobey orders. Tim Robinson was perhaps a bit under characterized as Jaquino, who isn't really very interesting anyway, and his singing was fine.
The Glyndebourne Chorus was on top form.