The protagonist of the opera is Leonore (Cassandra Black), who is searching for her husband, Florestan (Chase Taylor), who has been “disappeared” after criticizing the local governor. Disguised as a youth, “Fidelio”, she has been searching the prisons for her husband. Her energy and competence have won her the confidence of the prison warden, Rocco (Chris Besch), as well as the interest of his daughter, Marzelline (Erica Schuller), and she is about to be permitted to work in the “secret cells,” where the political prisoners are held.
Rocco is in the process of arranging a marriage between his daughter and “Fidelio” when word comes that the prison will be inspected by the Justice Minister, Don Fernando (Dustin Hertzog), an honest man and friend of Florestan. This galvanizes the governor, Don Pizarro (Eric McKeever) who fears that his illegal imprisonment of Florestan will be discovered. He attempts to order Rocco to kill Florestan, but Rocco refuses. Don Pizarro then declares that he himself will do the murder, and directs Rocco to open an ancient cistern below the prison which will conceal Florestan's body.
Rocco takes Fidelio with him to open the cistern. Fidelio recognizes the wretched prisoner as her husband, and, when Don Pizarro comes to murder him, she comes between them and threatens Don Pizarro with the pickaxe she has been working with. She reveals herself as Leonore to everyone's amazement. Don Pizarro is thunderstruck long enough for the trumpets to announce Don Fernando's arrival, when he realizes all is lost.
Besides liking the music, we were attracted to this production by the promised "Bollywood" treatment to be given by the Skylight's new Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman, who is of Indian extraction. In part, this refers to the practice, common in India's movie industry, of including musical numbers with song and dance, in almost any motion picture. In this case, the cast was costumed in a pre-British Raj fashion, and set against a background of painted plants and animals by artist Raghava KK that is reminiscent of illustrations from books of Hindu myth. Hair and beards were culturally appropriate. No attempt was made to imitate South Asian skin tones, the actors wearing their own complexions, which worked well. Dancers, choreographed by Deepa Devasena, a scholar and teacher of Indian dance, accompanied many of the musical numbers, which added nice vigor to arias such as Marzelline's aria in the first act, "If only I were already united with thee" ("O wär ich schon mit dir vereint), which otherwise is a lengthy stretch of the singer alone on stage. We didn't get the scene we had visualized, which was grateful prisoners gently dancing in the sun and air when allowed out for exercise, but dances added to other scenes, such as the triumphal chorus at the climax, without being distracting.
All of the singing was good and quite beautiful, with the regrettable exception of Florestan's second-act solos such as "God! What darkness here!" Mr. Taylor's singing sounded harsh, and with an excessively wide vibrato. I conjecture that he may have been trying a bit too hard to portray vocally Florestan's weakness and misery in those parts, since he blended well with the rest of the cast on the later ensemble pieces. The orchestra, directed by Mr. Subbaraman, did good justice to Beethoven's music. We thoroughly enjoyed this performance.
Although set in a past time even relative to Beethoven's day, this production reminded us that the story is timeless, and that, unfortunately, the the evils of secret prisons, political corruptions, and abuse of power are with us now as much as they ever were.
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