Adam Luther, Adrianne Pieczonka and Virginia Hatfield break free from misguided direction.
FIDELIO by Beethoven, directed by Andreas Baesler (Canadian Opera Company). At Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To February 24. $20-$290. 416-363-8231. See Continuing. Rating: NNN
Erratic conducting and dubious direction mar the Canadian Opera Company's new production of Fidelio. Thanks to some strong singing actors, however, Beethoven's triumphant music and vision win out.
The composer's sole opera isn't the most theatrical, but in the right hands it can stir and inspire in the same way as the finale of his Ninth Symphony. Devoted wife Leonore (Adrianne Pieczonka) dresses up in drag as Fidelio to get a job in the jail where her husband, Florestan (Jon Ketilsson), a political prisoner, has been wasting away. Talk about contemporary relevance.
Director Andreas Baesler and designer Andreas Wilkens opt for an expressionistic approach set in a bureaucratic dystopia dominated by towering filing cabinets, a powerful motif that makes no sense later on.
Another ill-thought-out piece of staging resembles a particularly ugly clothing display at Winner's.
From the flaccid overture on, conductor Gregor Bühl makes odd decisions about tempi. Some scenes soar while others fall flat. Overall, the conducting lacks propulsion.
Go for the singers. Vocally and dramatically, Pieczonka finds the woman behind the archetype. Mats Almgren brings complexity to his role as the jailer Rocco, while Virginia Hatfield is poignant as the boy-crazy Marzelline. Gidon Saks swaggers and roars a bit too much as corrupt politician Don Pizarro, but he's fun to watch.
As for Ketilsson, a late replacement for a tenor who walked off during a dress rehearsal (Richard Margison steps in for the last five performances), his high notes sound strained, as if he were constipated. It's an effect reinforced by the somewhat scatological situation he finds himself in during his opening aria.