Thursday, February 6, 2020

Fidelio returns with a splendid, tangibly felt production from Melbourne Opera: Herald Sun Review

Published in Melbourne's Herald Sun in print 7th February 2020

Amongst Beethoven’s vast output, he composed just one opera, Fidelio, a sort of paean to bravery and determination - qualities increasingly demonstrated by Melbourne Opera in recent years. 

Melbourne Opera Chorus in Fidelio
It’s also a ‘rescue opera’ in which the young woman Leonore disguises herself as a male and gets employment as the errand boy Fidelio in a jail where her husband Florestan has been unjustly imprisoned.    

From director Hugh Halliday, the original late 18th century European revolutionary setting is eschewed for a contemporized account. What transpires is a tangibly felt production with a spotlight on generic political hotspots, inhumane detention and a little of our own backyard as part of Andrew Bellchambers’ grimy-walled, dank and barbed-wired environment.

A comic element emerges early when Marzelline, daughter of the jailer Rocco, ignores the romantic advances of his assistant Jaquino and, complicating circumstances, falls in love with Fidelio. Perhaps it’s not implausible that Fidelio could maintain fooling everyone with her disguise - even a starved and disoriented Florestan when she finally recognises him in his cell.

Kirstin Sharpin as Fidelio and
Brad Daley as Florestan
Some shortcomings in the libretto aside, all is assuaged by the suspense, terror and hope that infiltrate Beethoven’s score. Textures and tempos integrated vividly under conductor Anthony Negus. And the MO Orchestra have never sounded more splendid in the Athenaeum.

In the title role, rich and velvety soprano Kirstin Sharpin punches high, her Fidelio undaunted by the risks and her vocal expressivity in compelling form. She leads an impressive cast of seasoned singers and young artists. 

Smoky bass Adrian Tamburini is an especially strong and cushioning presence as Rocco. It’s a long wait for the light to shine on tenor Brad Daley but he captures Florestan’s plight with extraordinary grit. Young ascending star Rebecca Rashleigh is utterly radiant as Marzelline and Louis Hurley’s handsome vocals add greatly to nerdish Jaquino. Warwick Fyfe is chilling as corrupt prison governor Pizarro although the decibels could come down and the chorus are glorious, notably as the men trudge convincingly through Act One’s Prisoner’s Chorus. 

In this, Beethoven’s 250th birthday year, Fidelio will have more exposure than usual and, as Melbourne Opera shows, it can be seen with a wider lens.

Melbourne Opera
Athenaeum Theatre
Until 13th February 2020
Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
23rd February 2020


Production Photos: Robin Halls