Beethoven’s Impassioned Cry for the Rights of Man

09/07/2016

United StatesUnited States Beethoven, Fidelio: Soloists, Cincinnati Opera, Jun Märkl (conductor), Aronoff Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, 7.7.2016. (RDA)

FIDELIO CINCINNATI FINALE

Finale of Fidelio at Cincinnati Opera
Photo: Phillip Groshong

Cast:

Leonore: Christine Goerke
Florestan: Russell Thomas
Rocco: Nathan Stark
Don Pizarro: Nmon Ford
Marzelline: Laura Tatulescu
Don Fernando: Daniel Sutin
Jacquino: Thomas Blondelle

Production:

Conductor: Jun Märkl
Stage Director: Chris Alexander
Scenic Designer: Robert Dahlstrom
Costume Designer: Rebecca Senske
Lighting Designer: Thomas C. Hase
Hair and Make-up Designer, James Geier

Beethoven’s decade-long struggle with Fidelio began in 1805, when he penned the first notes to his Fidelio Overture, Op. 72. It ended nine years later, as the aging and by-then-deaf composer put the finishing touches on the last of the three overtures he would write for his only opera.

The libretto, by Joseph Sonnleithner, embodies the political ideas and ideals of the time and extolls the praises of Leonore, the wife whose husband unjustly languishes in a dungeon for political prisoners, and who puts her own life on the line to rescue him. Fidelio never fails to rouse the emotions with its emotional story, its iconic characters, and sublimely beautiful music.

As Leonore, the American soprano Christine Goerke delivered on every count. She is a purposeful, committed singing actress, convincing at every turn of character. She can also summon both the concentrated outpouring of sound demanded in the duets with Rocco and Florestan, and the melting legato in the adagio section of “Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin?” Hornist Christopher Philpotts lovingly played the crucial obbligato that accompanies this aria.

Though he has made several Cincinnati appearances, the fine singer Russell Thomas was unexpectedly commanding in the role of Florestan on Friday night. Where many a tenor comes to grief in this music, Thomas shone with a clarion top voice, especially in his intelligent delivery of his “Gott, Welch’ Dunkel hier!

Nathan Stark was a noble Rocco, using his fine basso cantante generously, and balancing the the role’s humor and pathos with taste and dignity. The roles of the young Marzelline and her infatuated beau Jacquino were perfectly cast, with (respectively) Laura Tatulescu and Thomas Blondelle visually and vocally charming.

The impressive bass Nmon Ford was the villainous Pizarro, and bass-baritone Daniel Sutin was an elegant Don Fernando—the latter a deus ex machina whose last-minute arrival saves the day.

The Cincinnati Opera Chorus sang movingly in the interlude “O welche Lust!” and in the finale, and conductor Jun Märkl led the orchestra with a firm command of the score’s grandeur and humanity. The physical production—designed by Robert Dahlstrom and directed by Chris Alexander—is first-class, and effortlessly vaults the setting into the present. Altogether this third production of Cincinnati Opera’s 2016 season is another triumph.

Fidelio is the mother lode of Romantic operas, embodying the political and humanistic ideals of its composer and of its time. It gives an impassioned cry for the rights of man—a cry that resonates to this day for all of us in our conflicted, troubled world.

Rafael de Acha

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