I feel as though Santa Claus has delivered my Christmas present a couple of weeks early. I am sure that you will be thoroughly sick of my moaning about how streaming of opera and other theatrical performances comes nowhere near the live versions, well, this one certainly does!
The reason for the success of this staging of Fidelio by Opera North is that it has been specially arranged to be streamed rather than being put on in its original version and filmed. It reminded me of a Proms performance rather than an opera as the singers stood in front of the orchestra each in their own designated safe space. This meant that there was no acting, other than by the use of facial expressions and hand gestures. That, in turn, facilitated the showing of the performers in close up without making the viewer wonder what they were missing out on in another part of the stage. The only odd occasion when it didn’t quite work was when couples were singing about embracing even though they were quite some distance apart.
I especially liked the way in which all of the characters in the prison wore black uniforms which evoked the grim conditions even though there was no set.
As an opera it ticked all the boxes; intrigue, unrequited love (x 2), a woman posing as a man, a couple of subplots and a big reveal.
The piece opened with a spoken introduction by Don Fernando, the King’s Minister, played by Matthew Stiff, from what appeared to be his office which was off stage. He kept popping up throughout the evening in this role until he appeared on stage at the end to sing his part in the denouement.
The gist of the story is that Florestan (Toby Spence), a nobleman, has been imprisoned by his political rival and Prison Governor, Don Pizarro (Robert Hayward) and been kept on starvation rations separate from the other inmates. Florestan’s wife, Leonore (Rachel Nicholls), has got a job in the prison by disguising herself as a man and changing her name to Fidelio in order that she might try to free him. The problem is that Rocco (Brindley Sherratt), the Head Warder, has a daughter, Marzelline (Fflur Wyn), who falls in love with Fidelio even though she is being pursued by Jaquino (Oliver Johnston), a junior prison guard. Fidelio uses this infatuation to get close to Rocco and gain access to the mystery prisoner who does, in fact, turn out to be her husband. There are also vocal performances by Stuart Laing and James Davies as two prisoners. I will not reveal the ending as I want you to stump up the very reasonable £15 to watch it yourselves. That is only the same price that the Premier League were asking to watch live matches at the beginning of the season. This is better value as it lasts longer, no one falls over pretending to be injured and there are no constant interruptions to consult VAR. Opera North is also far more in need of the funds than the FA.
The singing and playing is exemplary and I must say that the hour and forty-five minutes flew past. The only glitch was that the subtitles disappeared on a couple of occasions, the first for over two minutes, during which time there was quite a lot of dialogue being sung. I watched it through again to see if any editing had taken place but they were still missing. It didn’t spoil anything and I don’t think that I missed any key plot points, besides, I was too busy enjoying the performances.
The Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North were conducted by Mark Wigglesworth and we can thank Matthew Eberhardt for the staging. The lighting designer was Mike Lock and the Livestream Director Peter Maniura.
Fidelio is a very accessible opera and the music quintessential Beethoven. I am sure that you will enjoy it just as much as I did, if not more, as you don’t have to make notes or forego the Saturday night wine so as to concentrate.
Fidelio is available to view until 19th December. To buy your ticket please go to:
All images supplied by Opera North