Review: Gloomy Fidelio is an event of two halves

Lucy Hall (Marzelline), Adrian Dwyer (Florestan), Timothy Dawkins (Don Fernando), Sam Furness (Jacquino), Elizabeth Atherton (Leonore). Picture: Matthew Williams-Ellis
Lucy Hall (Marzelline), Adrian Dwyer (Florestan), Timothy Dawkins (Don Fernando), Sam Furness (Jacquino), Elizabeth Atherton (Leonore). Picture: Matthew Williams-Ellis
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Clive Peacock reviews Fidelio at Longborough Festival Opera, Moreton-in-Marsh,

“Fidelio is sublime. It contains some of the most beautiful music ever written”, claims director, Orpha Phelan in conversation with designer, Madeleine Boyd.

Many will agree with her view, and, at the same time, many will challenge her over the misuse of the glorious overture. Why on earth does she subject her audience to a distracting drug-producing conveyer belt during its playing? This is horribly reminiscent of the biogas factory in Bayreuth’s brutally criticised Tannhäuser productions of the early 2000s.

Frequently what looks a good idea might have been better presented. Here it took an age to work out what on earth the idea might be; then the concept of the prison of the future dawned and thanks to the outstanding John Paul Huckle (Rocco) - a dominant figure in charge of the jail - the first half gathers momentum, until he utters spoken words in American English – well, he was born in Pittsburgh! Why sing the libretto in German supported by surtitles, only to suddenly speak the dialogue in English?

Beethoven’s fourth attempt at an overture for the opera was finally performed as the Fidelio overture in 1814. However, this was not ready to be performed until the second performance that year. Suffering from first night jitters, the usually ever-reliable LFO orchestra and chorus was not fully ready and delivered what every sporting pundit would describe as an event of two halves. No doubt, conductor Gad Kadosh, chorus and orchestra spoke together during the interval; Kadosh’s second half was much more spirited with the chorus in good voice for the final C major chorus in praise of Leonore’s bravery and release of the prisoners.

Elizabeth Atherton (Leonore) is diligent in her convincing deception of her temporary boss Rocco; convincing enough to persuade Rocco’s daughter Marzelline (the hugely lovable Lucy Hall) to fall in love with her. However, not so convincing is Adrian Dwyer (Florestan); the paramedic moment with trouser changing is clumsy and unnecessary. With everyone wearing white or green overalls, with Wayne Dowdswell’s lighting casting the stage, for him, in an uncharacteristic gloom, the performance lacks colour, and the drugs not prison bars is a daring fictional interpretation.

* Fidelio runs until July 2. Visit https://lfo.org.uk/opera/fidelio to book.