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Review: SAN FRANCISCO OPERA'S FIDELIO ONLINE at War Memorial Opera House

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Review: SAN FRANCISCO OPERA'S FIDELIO ONLINE at War Memorial Opera House On October 14, 2021, San Francisco Opera presented Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, in a well-thought-out production with an outstanding cast. Matthew Ozawa directed the action in a prison of the current era. There, Leonore, a prisoner's wife disguises herself as a male worker and rescues her husband from unjust incarceration. Visually, between Jessica Jahn's security guard outfit with bullet proof vest, Ozawa's incisive direction, and Elza Van Den Heever's ability to create a believable character, Leonore was quite credible. She should have been, because the character is based on a true story from the French Revolution's Reign of Terror.

Director Ozawa's prisoners inhabited Designer Alexander V. Nichols' multi-level construction of fencing, gates, and cages which exuded modern day claustrophobia. Jessica Jahn's costumes for prisoners included solid color jumpsuits, while Rocco and his crew wore plain pants and shirts. Anne Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, however, was a bit of feminine arm candy in dresses. Although showing Florestan's dungeon to be at the bottom of the entire construction, lighting designers JAX Messenger and Justin A Partier's flashes of light penetrated during his aria. Thus, his darkness was a shadow of the mind broken by the strength of his own will to live.

Russell Thomas and Elza Van Den Heever have well-matched heroic voices that exhibit great beauty of tone when buoyed up by Conductor Eun Sun Kim's large, musically colorful orchestra. Van Den Heever's "Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin?" ("Monster, where are you hurrying") showed her ability to sing in a florid style with splendid, long, Bel Canto phrases and a modicum of accurate coloratura. She easily encompassed the cold fury of the opening phrases and the warmth of the ensuing rainbow-clad dream. A fine actor as well, she communicated a wife's love for her husband whenever she did not have to pretend to be a male prison guard.

Thomas's voice has grown from romantic to heldentenor, while retaining the more lyric tones of his fluent pianissimo and the ability to act with his voice. His noble opening "Gott, welch Dunkel hier" ("God, what darkness here") showed his bright, trumpet tones punctuated by dark dramatic notes and the sweetness of a well-placed pianissimo. The sounds of soprano and tenor in harmony were a joy to hear as they conveyed their elation in the final duet.

As Marzelline, Anne-Marie MacIntosh sang with clear tones that gave the impression of an innocent young girl fooled by the older woman's disguise. Unlike the other characters, Marzelline was angry at the end because she had been deceived. However, she eventually realizes it was in a good cause.

In his aria, "Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben," ("If you don't also have gold nearby") James Creswell as Rocco sang with resonant, fatherly sounds encouraging young jailer Jacquino's hopes of marrying Marzelline. Creswell switched to darker, more dramatic utterances when dealing with the black-voiced Greer Grimsley as the villainous Pizzarro. Soloman Howard was an impressively noble Don Fernando.

San Francisco Opera has always had a magnificent chorus and this production allowed them to show off their numbers and their musical skill. Massed choristers with soloists Zhegyi Bai and Stefan Egerstrom made us think about the welfare of imprisoned people we never see. Conductor Eun Sun Kim chose tempi that never let the tension sag and her excellent instrumentalists showed us the plethora of orchestral color in which Beethoven bathed his one glorious opera. Don't miss it!

Performances of Fidelio at San Francisco Opera take place Oct. 17, 20, 22, 26, and 30. The shows on Oct. 17 and 20 are also available for viewing live online. More info at

Photo of Russell Thomas courtesy of San Francisco Opera.

From This Author - Maria Nockin

Maria Nockin worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York while attending  Fordham University across the street from Lincoln Center. At the same time, she studied voice, piano, and violin... (read more about this author)

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