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02 August, 2009

Fidelio at the Sydney Opera House.

Fidelio. Ludwig van Beethoven. The Sydney Opera House. 7.30pm Thursday 30th July 2009.

Jaquino - Stephen Smith
Marzelline - Lorina Gore
Rocco - Conal Coad
Leonore - Elizabeth Stannard
Don Pizarro - Peter Coleman-Wright
Florestan - Julian Gavin
Don Fernando - Warwick Fyfe
c. Jonathan Darlington
p. Michael Hampe

Dear Colleagues,

The sublime Lisa Gasteen had pulled out some months ago – possibly due to vocal indisposition - so Nicole Youl had been engaged to do the title role … but she was also unable to sing - due to a ‘winter virus’. According to General Manager Adrian Collette’s announcement Ms Youl’s understudy, Elizabeth Stannard had been singing Ariadne auf Naxos in Melbourne during the Fidelio rehearsal period, something which is hard to understand. Hence the audience was asked for patience and understanding. Ms Stannard was a member of the company’s chorus from 1998 to 2000. Her performance was satisfactory in the circumstances and she received a strong ovation, not all just sympathy either. Nevertheless, for a first night audience expecting the advertised Ms Gasteen this was far less than adequate.

Julian Gavin was absolute perfection as Florestan, putting colour, energy and light into every note he sang. Even his opening ‘Gott!’ was done in an original manner, sounding as if he turned from facing the back of the stage towards the audience in the course of that searing note. It is just one of the imperfections of this work that a great tenor is required for less than an hour, singing only in Act II. I wonder if a prologue from happier days of yore might be an improvement. The company could have done one of the other ‘Leonora’ overtures before Act II but we seem to get nothing extra from this company any more.

For their parts, Peter Coleman-Wright and Warwick Fyfe were well cast and effective. Stephen Smith as Jaquino was top rate while the Marzelline of Lorina Gore was also excellent. Conal Coad played a fine Rocco however his voice and others were mysteriously and loudly amplified from speakers in the rear of the auditorium in numerous intermittent bungles towards the end of Act I. This created an ugly and off-putting display of electronic anti-wizardry and interrupted the otherwise excellent singing of Mr Coad as well as some classy chorus singing in the prisoners’ scene. Full marks to chorus master Michael Black! Mr Darlington’s fine conducting was another link which held the performance together despite the diverse difficulties.

To my mind there is no excuse for (nor requirement for) amplification in the opera house setting (ever!). Indeed amplifying opera singers debases their art and training. With subtitles it is no longer necessary to amplify dialogue, especially in a relatively small house with good acoustics.

I was fortunate to hear Erika Sunnegardh and Richard Margison in the Met Fidelio in 2002 … but even with lowered expectations somehow the Sydney performance was all a bit flat, especially the first half. Michael Hampe and John Gunter’s production cleverly joins the scenes of Act II. Thus they cut straight from the marvellous 'private' reconciliation dungeon duet directly to Beethoven’s very 'public' final choral tour-de-force. How this is done needs to be seen rather than tediously explained by me. Suffice it to say that it received bigger applause than some of the singing.

Still worth a visit to the Sydney Opera House …

Comments by Dr Andrew Byrne ..

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