San Sebastian’s Quincena Musical Opens with Fidelio and Stuart Skelton’s Superb Florestan



Beethoven, Fidelio (concert performance): Orfeón Donostiarra, BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena (conductor), Kursaal, San Sebastian, 4.8.2017. (JMI)


Leonore – Ricarda Merbeth
Florestan – Stuart Skelton
Pizarro – Detlef Roth
Rocco – James Creswell
Marzelline – Louise Alder
Jaquino – Benjamin Hulett
Don Fernando – David Soar
Prisoners – Jesús García Aréjula and Eneko San Sebastián

The program for this year’s San Sebastian Quincena Musical includes two operas as well as Verdi’s Requiem. It opened with Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera, and the result was generally positive.

Juanjo Mena, chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, led his orchestra in collaboration with Orfeón Donostiarra. A few days earlier, the same interpreters had performed Fidelio at the London BBC Proms (click here for review). I found his conducting uneven: the first part of the opera lacked energy and emotion, but the second half was much stronger. The BBC Philharmonic performed well; as for Orfeón Donostiarra, they were not at their best for the Prisoners Chorus but improved as the opera went on. The cast was the same as in London, and the singers performed without a score.

Leonore was interpreted by soprano Ricarda Merbeth, who is one of the most solid sopranos currently in the German repertoire. She is not an exceptional soprano, but her performances are always convincing. She was more comfortable in the high part of Leonore’s tessitura, but fell short on the lower notes.

The best performance of the evening came from Stuart Skelton in the part of Florestan, which is one of the most difficult scores ever written for tenor. Mr. Skelton was outstanding at the start Act II with a ‘Gott’ sung pianissimo that opened in a spectacular way in an endless note. He managed to solve the character’s very difficult tessitura.

As Pizarro, baritone Detlef Roth gave a lively performance, but his voice is not really suited to the part. This evil character requires a voice that is darker than Mr. Roth’s. Rocco was competently sung by James Creswell, who replaced Brindley Sherratt.

Marzelline was the young British soprano Louise Alder, and I was a little disappointed – I was expecting more from her. She is a good singer, but her voice isn’t particularly strong, and she had problems reaching the audience.

Benjamin Hulett was a correct Jaquino, but David Soar as Don Fernando fell somewhat short on both nobility and volume.

José M. Irurzun

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