Go to Fidelio - now!

By Stephen Pollard
May 28, 2007

I went to the first night (well, afternoon, to be precise as it was, unusually, a matinee) of the Royal Opera House's new Fidelio. I'm going to try to write about it more fully later on, but for the moment I'll simply say besiege the box office until you get a ticket.

I was initially worried that the production, which updates it to a sort of generic communist/tyrannical modern state might be yawningly trite. Why directors feel the need to change the setting of Fidelio, which works perfectly in its original setting, is beyond me. However, the new production works splendidly, in large measure because of the outstanding singing and acting. I've never come across Endrik Wottrich before but he has just the right heroic voice for Florestan, and I thought Terje Stensvold excellent as Don Pizarro. Eric Halfvarson's Rocco was also pitch perfect.

But there were two simply astonishing perforances. Antonio Pappano's conducting was at the same time white hot, with a burning intensity, but also tender and subtle. The final scene was simply electrifying. I've been lucky enough to hear Fidelio conducted live by Leonard Bernstein, Colin Davis, and Kurt Masur. All were, in their own way, magical. But I don't recall any other live performance which was quite so intense as Pappanos. Sensational stuff.

As for Karita Mattila as Leonore. Breathtaking. If she doesn't win a best actress award for this - and I mean actress, whether in straight play or opera - something is very wrong. Not only is her voice simply one of the best in the world; she is also an actress of the highest calibre, fit to rank alongside any straight actress.

Book now - you'll thank me for telling you.

UPDATE: Well, not everyone agrees...Jessica Duchen says there was "some nasty stuff in the pit". She's bang on with the horns, which made me wince, but I thought after a shaky overture the actual opera was glorious. And I'm just puzzled how she can write of the Florestan: Unfocused, tight and lacking resonance, with rapid continual vibrato but no real centre to the tone. A physical match for Mattila, but certainly not a vocal one.

I thought his voice was a real discovery.


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