Auckland Philharmonia & Chapman Tripp Chorus of the NBR New Zealand Opera
Auckland Twin Hall
Beethoven’s Fidelio is probably one of the first modern operas dealing with political and social issues in a very obvious and direct manner. This is no allegory condemning the excesses of power; it is an obvious recounting of events which happened routinely both before and after the French Revolution, even though the opera is supposedly set in Spain.
Beethoven and his librettists attempted to celebrate the political and social changes which were transforming Europe
The opera threads a love story into a tale of political machinations. The personal quest of Leonora entering the prison to find her wrongly incarcerated husband becomes a metaphor for the wider search for truth and liberation
Much of the opera then has a political dimension so the recitatives and arias are at times more like lectures than drama events.
Fidelio more than many operas is well suited to a concert performance. Even the Wellington International Festival of the Arts version of five years was not a lot more than a concert version apart from the costuming and lighting.
The Auckland Philharmonia’s staging of the work although severely edited was a triumph. The orchestra was at its best, the singers provided a truly international quality performances and the Chapman Tripp chorus was inspiring
The seven singers managed to integrate the mixture of the personal and political making both the emotional reach of the opera as well as its polemic real and vibrant.
As the young love sick Marzeline Madeleine Pierard brought a beautifully nuanced voice which contrasted well with that of Erika Sunnergardh’s Leonora
With her gestures and deportment she gave the part an effervescent energy and vivacity
In the role of Leonora (Fidelio) Erika Sunnergardh gave a commanding presentation. In the first act she was relatively undemonstrative, her slight head movement, taut body and simple gestures helped convey the stress and anguish of the character. In the second act she displayed more passion and drama as the character moved from the depressed wife to dynamic rescuer.
Her voice was full of colour and expressed the fear, love, courage, anger and sadness which the part requires. She gave an insight into the character in a way that the libretto often fails to convey.
Peteris Eglitis as the Governor Don Pizarro sang with an urgency and forcefulness conveying a totalitarian malevolence.
Andrew Greenan as Rocco, the jailer was impressive in his role as the jailer expressing his conflicting views on the fate of Florestan with a voice tinged with sadness.
Simon O’Neill gave a electrifying as the heroic Florestan. His rich tenor voice expressed the weary fortitude of the condemned man as well as the anguish of meeting Leonora in an engaging and poignant performance.
In some ways he is a metaphor for the composer himself. In his opening aria he sings of”The terrifying silence”, acknowledgment of Beethoven’s deafness
For the most part in this opera it is the music which carries the drama and the Auckland Philharmonia under the control Jonas Alber provided that drama as he coaxed a superb richness of sound out of them.
Albers became one of the major performers on the stage as he conducted. At times he was like a frenetic piston engine forcing out the dramatic passages while at others he lightly danced on the podium serenading the players.
use of a narrator to take the audience through the story is a new international trend particularly with Fidelio. It seems to be an unnecessary inclusion which detracted from the drama of the music as well as the flow of the opera and anyway the words of the singers are projected as sur-titles for all to see.
Beryl Te Wiata read superbly but it seemed odd to have an eighty year old reading the words of Leonora who is supposed to be at leats half that age.