Mercoledi Musicale

Last evening as we sat having our tea and biscuits after dinner and listening to the radio a piece came on that I immediately recognized but couldn’t for the life of me identify. It was an opera I should know well, it was in German but it just wasn’t registering. I hate when that happens. And quite frankly it worries me a bit. When the announcer identified it as the Quartet Wir ist so wunderbar from Beethoven’s Fidelio I felt even more frustrated – how could I not recognize one of the most sublime moments in all opera?

And a sublime moment it is. The situation is a complicated one: Rocco, the jailor, expresses the hope that his new assistant Fidelio (Lenore in disguise as a man) will become his son-in-law; Marzallina her new found love for her father’s assistant; Jaquino, her former boy friend, his jealousy of his riva; and Leonora (Fidelio) her anguish at the situation. Simple emotions: hope, love, jealousy, anguish; but clothed in one of the most glorious vocal fugues ever written.

Fidelio is an opera I’ve seen six times with some remarkable casts and productions but one of my regrets is not seeing the great Swedish soprano Elizabeth Soderstrom in this Glyndebourne performance. We just couldn’t get tickets for love nor pounds sterling and had to be satisfied with Frederica Von Stade in Monteverdi’s Ulisse. Not a bad seconds, in fact a great one, and I’m just happy that the Fidelio was filmed.

July 10th is Clerihew Day – what’s that you say? What’s a Clerikhew – left click on the link. It’s also Piña Colada Day – so break out the rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk.

Overwhelmed… Continued

For a few days last week Reggio Emilia was the centre of talk in the European operatic world. Claudio Abbado, 75 and in not the best of health for several years now, was making a rare conducting appearance in Italy at the splendid Teatro Valli. His son Daniele is Artistic Director there. And for the first time in his career he was tackling Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio. Given the maestro’s reputation the expectations were high. I managed to get a ticket – not the easiest task, though getting a hotel was even harder – and made the four hour train trip up for last Tuesday’s performance.
Soloists with Abbado

The Maestro(centre) taking a bow with his solosists, (l to r) Jorg Schneider, Giorgio Surjan, Albert Dohmen, Julia Kleiter, Abbado, Anja Kampe, Clifton Forbis, Diogenes Randes, Ilker Arayurek and Levente Pall.

So was it worth the time, effort and money? Well let’s just say it was one of the most exciting evenings I’ve spent at an opera in the past 20 years. From the first notes of the overture (the wonderful Mahler Chamber Orchestra)Abbado’s Fidelio had a drive and dramatic tension which made the more introspective moments even more moving. The Canon was lyrically breathtaking and the Prisoners’ chorus (the men of the Arnold Schoenberg Chor)heartbreaking in its simplicity. The great second act hymn to freedom was almost hysterical in its joy but both Abbado and stage director Chris Klaus told us that joy was to be short-lived.

Chorus of prisoners - Alfredo AnceschiThis was Klaus’s first opera production and in many ways it showed. The action had been moved forward to the French Revolution and the guillotine was an ever present threat. At times it also became a senseless distraction – Giorgio Surjan was totally upstaged as one was assembled behind him when he launched into his “Gold” aria. But many of Klaus’s images where disturbing and beautiful, often at the same time – the hooded, faceless prisoners crawling on their bellies from darkness into the light of spring;Giorgio Surjan as Rocco, Albert Dohmen as Don Pizarro - Alfredo Anceschi a wheelchair bound Don Pizzaro(a chilling Albert Dohmen), his body as crippled as his mind; Marzelline (Julie Kleiter) turning in horror and disgust from the unmasked Leonore; the constant grovelling and money grabbing Rocco (Surjan)as ready to turn on his old master as he is to grovel for the new; and the final image of the chorus that had been so joyfully hymning freedom once again trapped and overshadowed by guards and a rank of guillotines. Florestan, now the new prison governor, had learned nothing from his imprisonment and nothing would change. It was chilling but all of a piece with Abbado’s dark view.

Anja Kampe as Leonore (Fidelio) - Alfredo AnceschiBoth conductor and director where blessed with singers who committed themselves to this bleak vision. Anja Kampe’s Leonore (right) was strongly drawn and sung; and if her blazing Absecheulicher! garnered no applause it was because Abbado would countenance none as he pushed the drama on. Though Clifton Forbis had all the required power for Florestan’s great aria I found his voice tight and there was a constriction in much of his phrasing. The discovery of the evening was Kleiter – Mozart-like in her exchanges with Jorg Schneider (Jacquino) her voice blended beautifully with those around her and her Marzelline was a completely drawn character. Klaus achieved that with all of the singers – they delivered their lengthy spoken dialogue with conviction and only occasionally lapsed into operatic acting.

Ultimately the evening – despite the ensemble curtain calls I wrote about previously – was Abbado’s vision of Fidelio – raw and terrible in its darkness. And I repeat it was one of the most exciting evenings I’ve spent in an opera house in 20 years.

The production photos are by Alfredo Anceschi. This production will play several performances each in Madrid, Baden-Baden,Ferrara and Modena over the next year. It will be interesting to see how it develops over that time – I may just head up to Modena to see it again next year.

13 aprile – San Martino Ignacio


I just got back from Reggio Emilia and I’m still excited – yes I know I’m over using that word but I don’t know how else to describe it – by what I experienced last night. I’ll post a more extensive comment tomorrow but let’s just say that it was an overwhelming experience that ended in a gigantic love fest!
Fidelio Curtain Call

The entire ensemble on stage before a cheering audience. This was taken just before Claudio Abbado made his appearance – at which point the house went wilder.

It was very much an ensemble evening and to make that point there were no solo bows. First the Extras took their bows, then the two choruses (men of the Arnold Schoenberg Chor and the entire Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid) with their chorus masters, followed by each soloist, then the entire Mahler Chamber Orchestra came on stage followed by Maestro Abbado. Flowers peppered the stage and in a lovely gesture many were thrown back into the audience. The ovation went on for 25 minutes and they rang down the main curtain three times and even as I was leaving a third of the audience was still there voicing their approval. My hands were red from applauding, my voice a bit hoarse from yelling Bravi and to be honest my eyes still a bit watery from the emotional impact of the evening.

More to follow.

09 aprile – San Antonio Pavnoi