Sweden Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio, Soloists, chorus, Wermland Opera Orchestra, Per-Otto Johansson (conductor), Wermland Opera main stage, Karlstad, 9.11.2014 (NS)
Don Fernando (Figaro): Anton Ljungqvist
Don Pizarro (Doctor Bartolo): Peter Kajlinger
Florestan: Daniel Frank
Leonore: AnnLouice Lögdlund
Rocco (Antonio): Johan Rydh
Marzelline (Barbarina): Anna-Maria Krawe
Jaquino (Basilio): Fredrik af Klint
First prisoner (Countess Almaviva): Frida Engström
Second prisoner (Count Almaviva): Anders Larsson
Berta: Ann Sigurdson
Susanna: Karolina Andersson
Direction: Tobias Kratzer
Set and costume design: Rainer Sellmaier
Lighting design: Björn Skansen
Makeup design: Elisabeth Näsman
Choirmaster: Bo Ericsson
Director’s assistant: Emil Eliasson
Translation to Swedish: Folke Abenius
The last part of Wermland Opera’s trilogy is a radically changed environment from the rococo splendour of The Marriage of Figaro: the stalls of the Karlstad Theatre have been turned into Don Pizarro’s prison where the prisoners (the chorus) sit blindfolded. The set consists of two platforms raised above the seats. On one of the platforms stands a guillotine. Thus most of the audience see this opera from tiered seating on the stage.
This daring idea works remarkably well. Though the singers mainly face towards the bulk of the audience on the stage, director Tobias Kratzer ensures that they also turn towards the audience on the balconies. The acoustic of the intimate Karlstad Theatre means that one can generally hear the soloists well even when they are turned away. The all-round audience had a particular treat in the Canon Quartet in Act 1, where Rocco, Marzelline, Leonore/Fidelio and Jaquino sit on the four sides of a square table sharing a simple meal of soup (served in porcelain “liberated” from Count Almaviva’s palace). The sensitive conducting of Per-Otto Johansson and the excellent balance of the soloists turned this into an almost religious moment of simple domesticity, all the more poignant for being literally in the shadow of Pizarro’s guillotine.
After the revolution at the end of The Marriage of Figaro many of the same characters turn up in Fidelio, but with new names and often changed by the experience of gaining or losing power. Figaro has risen to the new government as Don Fernando, a part he carried with great dignity and expression. The Count and Countess are humiliated and reduced to near-anonymity as First and Second Prisoners. Touchingly the ex-Count shows genuine tenderness towards Rosina for the first time since his wooing in The Barber of Seville.
Johan Rydh achieves a wonderfully human interpretation of Rocco. He is clearly devoted to his daughter, and his interest in money seems to be more a means to the end of her happiness than anything else. But Rocco manages to justify turning a blind eye to the many injustices at his workplace through his devotion to Marzelline (a textbook example of “the banality of evil”). Mr Rydh convincingly follows Rocco’s development as “Fidelio’s” simple decency and genuine compassion for the prisoners starts to awaken Rocco’s conscience, a process given a jolt by Pizarro recruiting him to aid in Florestan’s murder. His warm, lyrical and expressive bass was an especial joy to listen to.
Marzelline (Anna-Maria Krawe) is a very believable and sympathetic character and Ms Krawe’s light but expressive voice fits the role very well. Fredrik af Klint’s Jaquino continued his characterisation of Basilio as an oily and unprincipled toady who always sides with those in power, which worked very well in this context. Peter Kajlinger’s Don Pizarro has been made only crueller by access to power and is genuinely frightening, psychologically dominating Rocco and the other prison staff. His voice however lacks the full degree of power to make the perfect Pizarro.
AnnLouice Lögdlund is a sensational Leonore/Fidelio. She was absolutely gripping in “Abscheulicher” and “Komm Hoffnung” where her technique and impressive dynamic range mastered Beethoven’s demands on his soloist and had room to spare for searing emotion. Her aria was directly followed by the sublime prisoners’ chorus ”O welche Lust” (the dialogue was cut, instead Fidelio started the chorus by taking off the prisoners’ blindfolds). Those two numbers together encapsulate Leonore’s character: the burning love for her husband, the moral compass that she shares with him and the determination to do whatever it takes to save him. Ms Lögdlund was again gripping in her confrontation with Pizarro in Act 2 and in her duet with Florestan (though that scene was slightly marred by the moment when she actually recognised Florestan not being visualized).
Daniel Frank is a Florestan equal to Ms Lögdlund’s Leonore. He triumphantly rose to the challenge of the opening of Act 2, displaying superb technique and control of dynamics. His tenor is both bright and expressive. Mr Frank’s portrayal of the confused emotions of his character, dreaming of his wife then withdrawing into sullen silence as Rocco and “Fidelio” arrive in the dungeon, was most convincing.
My final words must go to the terrific chorus who spent the entire first act “on stage” and acted with great expression, both through the shifting emotions of “O welche Lust” and at some points wordlessly. Their singing in “O welche Lust” was very moving, and the joy of the released prisoners in the final scene of the opera was so strongly felt that I was almost moved to tears. What better way (intentional or not) could there be to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Click here for the review of part 1, The Barber of Seville
Click here for the review of part 2, The Marriage of Figaro