Beethoven – Fidelio
Leonore – Rebecca von Lipinski
Florestan – Eric Cutler
Don Pizarro – Daniel Henriks, Jossi Wieler
Rocco – Roland Bracht
Marzelline – Josefin Feiler
Jaquino – Daniel Kluge
Don Fernando – Tijl Faveyts
Erster Gefangener – Juan Pablo Marín
Zweiter Gefangener – Sebastian Peter
Staatsopernchor Stuttgart, Staatsorchester Stuttgart / Patrick Lange.
Stage directors – Jossi Wieler & Sergio Morabito.
Oper Stuttgart, Staatstheater, Stuttgart, Germany. Monday, October 24th, 2016.
What is true freedom in a world where everything we do, everything we say is recorded? That idea forms the central starting point of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s 2015 staging for the Oper Stuttgart, tonight revived with a similar cast to the initial run. Given the time of year and the changing weather, the cast wasn’t quite as planned. Josefin Feiler sang with apologies for a cold and the originally-cast Pizarro, Michael Ebbecke, withdrew at lunchtime today. The theatre was able to engage Daniel Henriks at the very last moment who sang from the wings while the co-director, Jossi Wieler, walked through the role. The Oper Stuttgart was recently named ‘Opernhaus des Jahres’ by the German publication Opernwelt and tonight most certainly justified that accolade with singing and playing at the highest level and excellent production values.
This was an intelligent and pensive staging that revealed itself slowly. The performance of the dialogue was given as much attention as the music with the text delivered deliberately and thoughtfully. Initially, I felt a lack of pace but as the evening developed, it actually drew me in to the world of the characters. In Wieler and Morabito’s world, virtually all the characters are prisoners – Pizarro isn’t accompanied by his guards for example but by inmates – and we are left to wonder why Rocco and the others are kept apart from the main group. The set (Bert Neumann) almost envelops the characters – there are no doors, individuals are absorbed by the set itself as they exit, we don’t know what’s behind what we can see, but we do know that there is no escape. The dialogue was amplified by microphones ranged around the set and the surtitles were an integral part of the set itself with the words appearing a few seconds after the characters sang them, as if being transcribed. I must admit I found it distracting but quickly managed to ignore them. What Wieler and Morabito suggest here is that in a surveillance society in which every word we speak is recorded and every word we sing is transcribed, nothing is ever private. This I found a most pertinent and convincing message and, when at the end we discover why Rocco was treated differently in the prison, the staging becomes quite empowering. The current order can only be overturned by us, the people, but as the reluctance of the crowd to stop their conditioned behaviour when invited to by Don Fernando is made clear, we have to want to take the opportunity to change things for the better.
This particular run marked the role debut of Eric Cutler as Florestan and he is already a most notable interpreter of the role. His opening cry of ‘Gott!’ was absolutely elemental, growing with an enormous crescendo, the voice absolutely rock solid. As the aria developed, the voice continued to soar higher and higher, opening up thrillingly with the registers completely integrated. The voice itself is absolutely massive yet it was always used musically and the ability to fine the tone down to a perfectly supported pianissimo was just as impressive. Cutler was absolutely sensational.
Rebecca von Lipinski’s Leonore was honestly sung. The voice has a not inappropriately boyish tone with a bright, narrow sound. Hers isn’t perhaps the most glamorous soprano to have essayed the role and I left with a suspicion that the role lies on the heavy side for her. The top sounded raw and somewhat unruly and the core of the voice lacked the ideal amount of metal that the role perhaps requires. She is however a highly engaging and puppyish stage presence.
In a way, it was hard to judge how effective the portrayal of Pizarro was in this staging due to the fact that we were effectively seeing the character at one remove. Certainly, it’s clear that he dominated the prison – his clothing differentiated him from everyone else – but how he maintained his power and on what authority was left unclear. Daniel Henriks offered us a big and powerful bass-baritone, also absolutely solid in tone with the registers completely even from top to bottom. Definitely a singer I’d like to hear again. Roland Bracht’s Rocco was world-weary and gruff. The voice didn’t quite do everything he wanted to but he was a warm and generous presence on stage.
The remaining roles really were superbly sung by some highly promising artists all of whom were new to me. Josefin Feiler’s Marzelline soared gloriously in the quartet. The voice has good resonance and is a charming lyric soprano of wonderful sheen. Daniel Kluge offered us a healthy and vibrant tenor with real personality. Tijl Faveyt’s Fernando was sung in an extremely handsome baritone also with good resonance and one I think will grow even more in the next few years. I would certainly take any opportunity to hear these three singers again.
Patrick Lange’s conducting also contributed to the success of the evening. Yes, there were a few momentary lapses of coordination between stage and pit, and yes there were also a few passages where the tempi caught the band off guard, but otherwise his conducting was extremely satisfying. His phrasing really brought out the beauty of Beethoven’s writing and with the ideally swift tempi there was an inexorable sense of forward momentum that was absolutely exhilarating, particularly so in that roof-raising, uplifting final chorus. And what a fabulous noise the outstanding Staatsopernchor made, singing with wonderful blend and enveloping warmth. The band really benefitted from the minimal vibrato in the strings, especially in the introduction to the quartet which was ravishingly played. The brass was nicely raspy and the solo clarinet (Michael Rathgeber) had genuine character.
The audience greeted the end of the show with the kind of spontaneous and uninhibited ovation I haven’t heard in a theatre for a very long time and justifiably so. Yes, this Fidelio wasn’t quite perfect and due to the last-minute indisposition, we didn’t quite get the full picture. Yet it raised the spirits in the way only this work can. Tonight also gave us optimism and hope that we really can make a difference. It was always honestly sung and in Cutler’s Florestan revealed a major new interpreter of that killer role. It also showcased the outstanding talents of the members of the house ensemble and this revival is one that definitely needs to be seen. Outstanding.
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