BWW Review: An Off-Night in Seville with an Unexciting FIDELIO at the Met

BWW Review: An Off-Night in Seville with an Unexciting FIDELIO at the Met

BWW Review: An Off-Night in Seville with an Unexciting FIDELIO at the Met
Adrianne Pieczonka and Klaus Florian Vogt.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Beethoven's only opera, FIDELIO, was the last of three operas this season at the Met to take place in Seville, after CARMEN and BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA. Third time definitely wasn't the charm.

Granted, this is a hard piece to pull off--even Beethoven had a tough time getting it into the form we hear today. (It was hard enough to satisfy himself with the overture; eventually, he wrote four of them!) It's an unlikely mix of operetta and tragedy, with vocal writing that's notoriously hard on singers, though the score does have some inspired and beautiful music.

The composer didn't seem to understand that the voice couldn't be treated like a musical instrument having mechanical precision and he frequently set the music in an uncomfortable place between registers--far from ideal for most singers. In some performances, the orchestra becomes a major character because this is where Beethoven's writing was at its best and, Beethoven being Beethoven, that means something very good.

Indeed, FIDELIO can be an exciting piece on a night when the right singers and conductor are involved. It was certainly thrilling when this Jurgen Flimm production was new, with Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner, as the stalwart wife Leonore (disguised as the young man, Fidelio) and the political prisoner Florestan, and James Levine on the podium. Unfortunately for the Met audience at the second performance of this season, the thrill was gone, with the mild overture led by Sebastian Weigle (who made the odd choice of taking a bow after the orchestral opening) setting the mood.

Not that there was much wrong with soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and tenor Klaus Florian Vogt in the main roles that a little direction couldn't have helped along, but there didn't seem to be any in sight. She's proven a reliable singer (a better Chrysothemis in ELEKTRA last year) and he--a far cry from the hefty sound of Heppner or Jon Vickers who sang it here in the past--was better once he warmed up, though he acted like he'd had a day at the spa rather than being near-death from starvation. His usually powerful entry aria, "Gott! Wech dunkel hier!" was pretty timid.

Set by Robert Israel in the jail of some unnamed repressive regime, the characters were spread across the Met's huge stage, giving no sense of intimacy whatsoever in a story where love plays a major part. Leonore and Florestan hardly looked in each other's direction when they were reunited--and would have needed to yodel to get each other's attention. Even their wonderful duet, "O namelose Freude," failed to make their eyes meet, except for a fleeting moment.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.