BWW Reviews: Skylight Revolutionizes Beethoven's 'Fidelio'

A magnificent revolution arrived when the curtain opened at the Skylight Music Theatre on Friday night. The first night Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman christened his magical season as the Stage and Music Director for his premiere production in Ludwig van Beethoven's Fidelio.

Subbaraman also invited the international Indian artist Raghava KK to inspire the impressive scenic design for the opera. Opulent, larger than life sets recalled Disney's award winning Fantasia influenced by painter Henri Rousseau's exotic, surreal worlds. Which then set a backdrop for Karin Brown-Larimore's traditional Indian inspired costumes fashioned in hues taken from tropical birds of paradise: gilt trimmed, sparkling, swirling skirts and veils for the women, majestic uniforms and turbans for the men.

Milwaukee's own chorographer Deepa Devasena introduced the Bollywood element to Subbaraman's interpretation of Fidelio when her unique choreography mixed ethnic dance that flirted with contemporary flair to the original early 19th century opera. All these gifted technical professionals, together with a production and theater staff Subbaraman brought on stage for the evening's standing ovation, created an amazing spectacle of performance art. Enhanced throughout the production when modern technology linked video screens on stage to interactive headphones worn by Subbaraman when he was conducting, which would electronically change the colors and images the audience visibly sees on the stage.

The abundant innovation to Beethoven's only opera kept Skylight's audience completely entranced. As the performance unfolded this feast for the eyes and ears, Fidelio's tale of courage, freedom and love pierced the emotional heart In Beethoven's opera, the heroine Leonare (Caasandra Black) bravely rescues her husband Florestan (Chase Taylor) condemned to death for exposing political crimes. She then dresses as a man to earn the trust of the prison warden, Rocco (Chris Besch) that offers her a chance to free her starved, tortured husband. In the process, the warden's daughter Marzeline (Erica Schuller) falls in love with the loyal Fidelio, actually the disguised Leonare, so the opera crescendos to a finale where liberty and love eventually triumph.

In one of the performance's most powerful scenes, Black's courageous Leonare convinces the warden to let the prisoners out for a walk in the sunshine to momentarily relieve their suffering. The men dressed in simple, linen white pajamas, rumpled from sleeping in prison cells, slowly descend through the theater's aisles, gathering on stage to praise their brief respite in chorus, reveling in the light and warm sunshine they rarely encounter. The audience immediately empathizes with any prisoner in the modern world reduced to this inhumanity of confinement, darkness and hunger in all cultures.

Featuring the brilliant acting and voices of Besch, Eamon Pereyra, Schuller, Taylor and a chours of others accmpanied by the twelve piece orchestra, Beethoven's opera literally rings through the Cabot theatre with the music of freedom and love Beethoven imbued in his characters. Most poignant when the prisoner Florestan, a commanding Chase Taylor, sings his thank you to the still masquerading Leonare after she gives him a few sips of water and scraps of bread. That is all he has to offer her: gratitude. Sometimes all humanity needs to offer each other is gratitude, great respect for being individual persons of value.

Each of Fidelio's performers contributes significantly to the opera's resounding, uplifting success. While Subbaraman choose the word "Revolution" to unify the Skylight's 2013-2014 season, he illustrates this concept creativity and thematically with profound, progressive insight. When he honored his own heritage in this initial production, he honored the legacies of all Americans, including the Milwaukee Sikh community who lost their lives in a tragic temple shooting several years ago.

Milwaukee can only imagine what marvelous surprises Subbaraman will open on stage this coming year, another vital theatrical transformation. Also consider transforming into an avant-garde, soul searching, opera-loving revolutionary by attending the Skylight all year. Wonder and watch where Subbaraman's creative revolution will lead the musical theatre and all those fortunate to travel with him.

Skylight Music Theatre presents Ludwig van Beethoven's Fidelio at the Broadway Music Theatre through October 6. For information or tickets, please call 414.291.7800 or visit skylightmusictheatre.com

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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