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13 April, 2006

Fidelio at the Met. 8 out of 10!

The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

8pm Thursday 13th April 2006

JaquinoGregory Turay
MarzellineJennifer Welch-Babidge
RoccoKristinn Sigmundsson
LeonoreErika Sunnegardh
Don PizarroAlan Held
First PrisonerDimitri Pittas
FlorestanRichard Margison
Don FernandoJames Morris
ConductorPaul Nadler
ProductionJurgen Flimm

Dear Colleagues,

This performance rounded off an entirely successful Fidelio season for the company. Not only a New York Times article about 'waitress to soprano' but also a reported minor vocal mishap on her opening night yielded publicity well beyond the normal. Ms Sunnegardh was second cast to Mattila's prima donna which I did not hear.

This up-dated production by Jurgen Flimm and Robert Israel is clever, stylish and sympathetic to the book. The 'rescue' opera takes place around 1960 in a repressive European political regime. Although the set was a 19th century prison, fluorescent lights, supermarket shopping bags and tailored military uniforms brought us into the middle of the 20th century. In a brilliant contrasting coup, the final scene moved on without a break from darkest dungeon to bright square outside. Against a bright blue horizon, we saw an equestrian statue (under construction) of Don Pizarro in the guise of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Its defacing by the crowd was reminiscent of the toppled Saddam in another failed dictatorship.

The final jubilant chorus was adrenalin-plus. Each principal singer could be clearly heard as well as the orchestra and chorus in their turn. And while the opera has dramatic imperfections, the finale must be one of the most joyous pieces of musical writing anywhere in opera. And there is the awkward and dramatically unsatisfactory 'side show' of Marzelline discovering that her betrothed is actually a woman. Joachino is her consolation prize.

Typical of the Met, most performers had long CV's. Conductor Mr Nadler was not typical of the Met as James Levine had injured himself in a theatre fall recently requiring shoulder surgery. Yet there was a feeling that Levine was there in spirit, rubato and all.

'Swedish American' Ms Sunnegardh as the title role was the newcomer, her career debut being in 2004 according to the program. She has a impressive, penetrating, accurate and large voice, especially secure in the high register. Her performance earned a rare standing ovation at the end from a substantial minority of the audience. She seemed overwhelmed by the reception.

Icelander Kristinn Sigmundsson sang Rocco to a perfection. Somewhat reminiscent of Kurt Moll, he has a large frame and matching velvet vocal output.

Richard Margison commenced his act with a pianissimo 'Gott' and sang the rest with power and pathos as required.

The first felon, Dimitri Pittas, sang some charming bars on being released into the sunlight. A clever touch put him into a dog-collar, worsening the impression of the police state imprisoning a cleric.

I doubt that James Morris would get his full fee for the cameo appearance as Don Fernando, yet he sings with suave authority if with a distinct beat at times.

The Met chorus was in finest form, being brilliantly directed such that there was a paucity of movement in the prison scenes yet mirth and frivolity emphasised at the end with corresponding activity, dancing, etcetera.

All in all a triumph for the Met. I'm not sure if that can be said of all their recent shows.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..