Presented by NEMPAC Opera Project
Opera by Ludwig van Beethoven
Libretto by Joseph von Sonnleithner
Artistic and stage direction by Rebecca Miller
Music direction and conducting by Dr. Tiffany Chang
Sung in German with supertitles, dialogue in German for performer acting and audience comprehension compatibility.
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) Beethoven nails the human condition with his only opera. Fidelio is about the lengths we go to for those we love. Yet, Beethoven reminds us, it is unwise to underestimate the insecurities of the vengeful. NEMPAC’s production was a challenging joy.
Leonore (Nataly Wickham) has gone undercover as the strapping but cuddly af Fidelio to rescue her husband Florestan (Christopher Eaglin) from wrongful imprisonment. Leonore/Fidelio is employed as a handyman by Rocco (Seth Grondin). Rocco manages the jail for corrupt warden Don Pizarro (Andrew Miller). Meanwhile, young miss Marzelline (Abigail Krawczynska) is in love with Fidelio. Jaquino (Ethan DePuy) is in love with Marzelline. The plot is fluffy before going dark. The omnipresent ensemble of prisoners remind us that the leads’ happiness is superficial. Evil lies just beneath the surface.
Dr. Tiffany Chang makes an excellent first impression. She commands our attention with a refined stage presence. Her baton is expressive; the orchestra has no choice but to respond. What’s better, Chang is able to turn off her presence to give the stage to the vocalists. It’s an impressive display of skill for any artist.
The bathroom-like acoustics of The Great Hall made the production sound glorious. Yet, it was hard to discern the diction of the cast with the orchestra mere feet away from the audience. I’m going to assume that everyone sang flawlessly as if they were German natives schooled in the art of hochdeutsch. Because of course they did.
The acting of the cast was not on par with the music. Their discomfort with the spoken word was evident. Whether it was a matter of the music taking priority over the dialogue in rehearsals, is unclear. What was clear was a certain inflexibility of performance technique once the music was removed.
Fidelio has exquisite music (except for the silly digging scene). Rebecca Miller took great care with her staging in the first act. Her actors used the space well. Miller had a message and took advantage of the score to express that message. It was easy to find enjoyment even during the depressing bits.
Alas, the second act didn’t have the same panache as the first. There was much more unmotivated parking and barking.The big reveal/depantsing of Fidelio was anti-climactic. The Leonore/Florestan reunion was even more so. And, for such an important guy, Don Fernando (James C.S. Liu) didn’t have a retinue (which would have given the three guards something else to do). Miller went from fun, reality-building staging to almost nothing. Instead, we got passionate hugging. For all the beautiful (although under-supported so as to be nearly but not actually flat) vocals, the second act disappointed.
Fidelio was imperfect but it took risks. The risks paid off. The safer elements of the opera did not. For example, the modern translation used in the supertitles was super fun. What’s not fun? Learning important lessons the hard way. Prison reform is still necessary. Never mistake an asshole with a key for God’s will.
We elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
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