Fidelio @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival
Re-settings in historical eras seem to be de rigueur for opera productions nowadays, so why not set Fidelio in futuristic outer space, with 21st century technological design to match?
In this production by Opéra Lyon, Gary Hill, the American multi-media artist's computer-generated graphics projected onto a gauze screen in front of the stage overwhelmed the entire opera and certainly make this a memorable production, unfortunately not for good reasons. At first, the abstract designs of constellations are utterly beautiful and transcendent, moving slowly. This is an inspired pairing, with the libretto's star symbolism (hope, eternity, freedom/liberty) and the geometric marching soldiers, reminiscent of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, echoing the Art Deco costumes of the prisoners.
Unfortunately, there is far too much meaningless and ugly doodling – one longs for a respite and there is no consistency in the design, with the geometric giving way to unsubtle and tasteless literal interpretations of the theme of gold portrayed by enormous U.S. coins, (a heavy-handed criticism of capitalist USA) and upside-down heads. One suspects they are part of the superimposed story told by a narrator, with blocks of text taken from Harry Martinson's 1956 sci-fi poem Aniara, a dated, clichéd piece of clunky prose which adds nothing and is merely a distraction.
The staging is static, with singers gliding in just to stand in a row. The only use of them is by Marzelline when she spins round in joy at the end of an aria - far too hard to do whilst singing, of course. Her costume, a ball of 3D silver geometric blocks, is fascinating, as is Don Fernando's, with its wing-like shoulder projections, both suitably sci-fi. Don Pizarro's is also striking – though why Kabuki-style is relevant is unclear. The other characters, in Dr Spock-type uniforms, look bulky and uncomfortable in a thick felt-like material, which impedes their movements. All of the above means the singers are rather swamped in this production.
However, there are many high points: Marzelline sung by Valentina Naforniţă is delightful, especially in the last aria from the first act. Erika Sunnegårdh's beautiful, rich and mellow voice as Leonore is rather muted in the first act as if saving her energy in this demanding role, but rises to ecstatic sustained heights in act two in the prison scene. Nikolai Schukoff as Florestan stands out with his dramatic performance and striking voice. Conductor Kazushi Ono's orchestra is unexceptional, except for the overture placed immediately before the final section, when the power of Beethoven's symphonic orchestration comes through. Ultimately, this production does not bring out the best in the singers, nor do justice to Beethoven's vision.