Valencia’s Fidelio Five Years Later: More Mature, More Memorable

L. van Beethoven, Fidelio: Soloists, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana. Zubin Mehta (conductor). Queen Sofía Palace of the Arts, Valencia. 05.06.2011 (JMI)

Production: Palau de Les Arts de Valencia

Direction: Pier’Alli
Sets and Costumes: Pier’Alli
Lighting: Guido Levi


Leonore: Jennifer Wilson
Florestan. Peter Seiffert
Rocco: Stephen Milling
Pizarro: Yevgueni Nikitin
Marzelline: Sandra Trattnigg
Jaquino: Karl-Michael Ebner
Don Fernando: Robert Lloyd

Picture courtesy Palau de les Arts, © Tato Baeza

This performance of Fidelio will remain in the memory of the Valencia audience. It was one of those—all too rare—occasions where you can watch smiling and exciting faces leaving the opera house: A night where everything was just right—from the singing to the staging and, above all, the orchestral performance. It’s been 5 years since the Palau de les Arts opened… with this very production of Fidelio. Comparisons are inevitable and we note that in these 5 years the Orchestra and Chorus of the Palau have improved remarkably and as a result clearly exceeded their previous, inaugurative Fidelio.
The revival of Per’Alli’s work is more remarkable from an aesthetic point of view than that of pure stage direction. A big part of the stage attraction lies in the use of projections in the second act, with very interesting screen movement that perfectly places the dungeon scene. The rest of the production is more conventional. Lighting is interesting at times, but least so when the prisoners come out of the darkness into the… well, light. The Pizarro-march looks more suited to La Fille du Regiment, while the duet of Leonore and Florestan, singing separated by about five meters, is the antithesis of the reunion of a loving couple in such exceptional circumstances. I have to say that I enjoyed the production more than 5 years ago, probably due to all the horrible productions I have suffered around that time.

Fidelio is one of the operas where the figure of the musical director is key to the overall result. In the first act there is much to do to accompany the singers, but it is in the second act where the conductor becomes the true protagonist of the opera, especially from the reunion of Florestan and Leonore onward. Zubin Mehta has been the star of this Fidelio and he has proved reminded us that the figure of the conductor is of paramount importance in the final result of an opera. His direction exceeded that of Tosca the previous evening and considerably bettered that of Daniele Gatti in Zurich. (See S&H review here.)

In the almost five year period since October 2006, the orchestra has become a top international group of musicians and they offered an exceptional performance. Something similar can be said of the chorus, the amateur Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana. In October 2006 they were not up to the task of facing Fidelio; by now they have  become a spectacular chorus with great musicality, full of fresh voices, fully obedient to the baton of Zubin Mehta and they almost become the stole the show. Today there is no chorus—professional or amateur—in Spain that matches their quality. The Leonore 3 overture and the final scene, meanwhile, where orchestral masterpieces, brilliantly conducted; in brief, one the best performances I can remember from Zubin Mehta.

Fidelio/Leonore was American soprano Jennifer Wilson, well known in Valencia for her Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring. Jennifer Wilson is a powerful soprano with an appealing voice, though her acting skills and general dramatic ability fall short of her vocal quality. She belongs to the category of those sopranos who are best listened to with your eyes closed.

Florestan is one of the most thankless parts written for a tenor and I must say that Peter Seiffert was a pleasant surprise in the character, improving on his performance from five years ago. I do not know whether the fact that he canceled his performances last month had to do with the result, but the truth is that I found him less affected by his usual vibrato in the upper range. In this form, at least, it is not easy today to get a better Florestan.

One of the weakest points of the inauguration-Fidelio was the Pizarro of Juha Uusitalo, whose voice is not well suited to this evil character. Russian Yevgeny Nikitin was much better suited to the character, with a remarkable voice and convincing on  stage.

Danish bass Stephen Milling was a remarkable Rocco. His voice is well suited to the character and he was a very convincing interpreter. Sandra Trattnigg was also an excellent Marzelline, repeating her interpretation from Zurich last March. Young Austrian tenor Karl-Michael Ebner was a good Jaquino while veteran (70) English bass Robert Lloyd sang his Don Fernando with poise and a voice still firm.

José Mª Irurzun


available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Fidelio,
F.Lehmann / Vienna SO
R.Holm, M.László, W.Hebenstreit et al.
Walter Felsenstein Edition
ArtHaus DVD
available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Fidelio,
Mehta / Valencia
P.Seiffert, W.Meier, J.Uusitalo, C.Stabell
Unitel / medici arts DVD
available at Amazon
G.Puccini, Tosca,
J.Colaneri / MET
J.Protschka, G.Benackova et al.
Adold Dresen
ArtHaus DVD