Germany Beethoven, Fidelio: Staatsopernchor and Staatskapelle Berlin / Karl-Heinz Steffens (conductor), Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, 7.12.2018. (JMI)
Director – Harry Kupfer
Sets – Hans Schavernoch
Costumes – Yan Tax
Lighting – Olaf Freese
Fidelio – Simone Schneider
Florestan – Klaus Florian Vogt
Rocco – René Pape
Don Pizarro – Falk Struckmann
Marzelline – Mandy Fredrich
Don Fernando – Arttu Kataja
Jaquino – Florian Hoffmann
This production of Fidelio by director Harry Kupfer premiered in October 2016, replacing the well-known Stéphane Braunschweig staging that had been performed here since 1995. Kupfer employs one stage setting for most of the opera, which does not always make much sense dramatically. In Act I, the home of the jailor, Rocco, is a large, rather empty space with a big piano and a bust of Beethoven. The prisoners’ exit at the end of the first act is done as if they were simply a chorus leaving the stage.
The dungeon scene at the beginning of Act II uses the same setting, although the piano and the bust have been placed to one side. For the final scene, Kupfer moves the action to a concert hall where the protagonists, holding scores, are seated on chairs at the front of the stage. The costumes are modern and not particularly interesting, and the lighting is correct.
I did not find the reading by conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens, whom I was seeing for the first time, especially exciting. To begin with, he chose to play the Leonore Overture No.2. From then on, his conducting seemed appropriate and controlled but short on inspiration, which in this opera is especially important. It was just one more reading of Beethoven’s work, which makes me more eager than ever to hear the opera in Munich next month with Kirill Petrenko conducting. There were fine performances by the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Staatsopernchor.
Fidelio/Leonore was played by soprano Simone Schneider, who confirmed again the positive impression she made on me a couple of years ago as Sieglinde in Vienna. Her voice is engaging, and she is a noteworthy interpreter.
Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt in the role of Florestan was, as usual, a remarkable singer, although his voice is perhaps not the most appropriate for this character. Vogt is one of the best possible performers today in characters such as Lohengrin or Walther von Stolzing, but his voice does work as well for more dramatic characters, as is the case with Florestan. To his credit, he was able to cope perfectly with the difficult tessitura that Beethoven wrote for the part.
Bass René Pape in the part of Rocco was also excellent. He has a powerful, attractive voice and sang with authority. Marzelline was played by soprano Mandy Fredrich, who has an appealing, well-handled voice.
Falk Struckmann as Pizarro and Arttu Kataja in the role of Don Fernando were less convincing. The cast was completed by tenor Florian Hoffmann who did a good job as Jaquino.
The Staatsoper was again sold out, but the audience was not as enthusiastic at the final bows as they had been the previous evening.
José M. Irurzun