[Met Performance] CID:333057
New Production
Fidelio {205} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/13/2000.

(Debuts: Eric Cutler, Jürgen Flimm, Florence von Gerkan

Metropolitan Opera House
October 13, 2000
New Production


Leonore.................Karita Mattila
Florestan...............Ben Heppner
Don Pizarro.............Falk Struckmann
Rocco...................René Pape
Marzelline..............Jennifer Welch-Babidge
Jaquino.................Matthew Polenzani
Don Fernando............Robert Lloyd
First Prisoner..........Eric Cutler [Debut]
Second Prisoner.........Alfred Walker

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Jürgen Flimm [Debut]
Set designer............Robert Israel
Costume designer........Florence von Gerkan [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Duane Schuler

Fidelio received twelve performances this season.

Production a gift of Alberto Vilar

Review of Peter G. Davis in New York Magazine

The Met finally overhauls "Fidelio," giving Beethoven's prison-bound opera a grim, updated look while reveling in Karita Mattila's magnificent Leonore.

For those who consider "Fidelio" more monument than music drama, the Metropolitan Opera's powerful new production is likely to prove startling, perhaps even revelatory. Yes, the triumph of individual freedom in the face of brutal tyranny fired Beethoven, but he created real people to deliver the message, a fact that director Jürgen Flimm never lets us forget.

It's often remarked, not always flatteringly, that" Fidelio" begins as domestic comedy, suddenly veers into scene-chewing melodrama, and winds up as a static cantata in praise of Leonore, whose self-sacrificing bravery frees her unjustly imprisoned husband. Flimm seizes on what some would call clumsy dramaturgy and turns it into a virtue. He carefully develops the characters and their conflicting needs in the [first] scenes, backs away to show us how the important dramatic action directly evolves from these homely events, and finally integrates everything into the panoramic spectacle that concludes the opera. It's rather like watching a seamlessly
made film, one that starts out as a series of close-ups, gradually broadens its perspective to find the larger picture, and ends in one glorious long shot that ties it all together.

Robert Israel's sets and Florence von Gerkan's costumes add a touch of film noir to the production's cinematic flavor. Although no specific time or place is evoked, the atmosphere is unremittingly grim and vaguely contemporary - the Act One cell block in fact, would not be out of place in a Cagney-Bogart-Raft prison movie. Florestan's subterranean dungeon is a dank, subhuman environment, accessible only by a very scary perpendicular ladder. In the finale, a marble statue of the tyrant Pizarro on horseback is toppled and replaced by the villain in person, presumably to be hanged just as the curtain falls. At least that is what it looks like; on [first] night, the intent of that last scene was not entirely clear, but I expect it will be more effectively realized in later performance.

I've seen some compelling Leonores over the years - Mödl, Varnay, Silja, Jurinac, Rysanek, Ludwig, Söderström, Jones - but none ever gave a more complete performance of the role than Karita Mattila does in this production. Mattila may not have a huge dramatic voice, but she eloquently proves that Leonore need not always be sung by an Isolde or a Brünnhilde. When a hefty stand-and-deliver Wagnerian soprano sings the part, a long tradition at the Met, the psychological pressures
and physical danger of Leonore's situation are pretty much left to the audience's
imagination. Not so here. Between them, Mattila and Flimm show us a conflicted
woman under terrific tension in her boy's disguise as a jailer's assistant, desperately looking for a way to rescue Florestan. Despite her total immersion in a character teetering on the edge, Mattila never loses vocal control. Her singing is consistently true and expressive, the bravura passages are thrillingly delivered, and her gleaming, centered tone lights up the entire house.

The rest of the cast is more than worthy of this exceptional Leonore. At the first performance, Ben Heppner misjudged the [beginning] of Florestan's big second-act aria, but he soon found the right tone and sang with disciplined authority Falk Struckmann refuses to ham up Pizarro's villainy; and his rock-solid portrayal is all the more chilling for its understatement. Rene Pape (Rocco). Jennifer Welch-Babidge (Marzelline), and Matthew Polenzani (Jaquino) not only have superior voices, but they also bring an added human dimension to their roles. Each has been badly shaken by life-and-death drama that Leonore brought into their lives, and these ordinary folk will never again be the same.

Most impressive of all is the inspirational account of the score by the Met orchestra under James Levine. One expects instrumental excellence from this superbly trained group of musicians, but was unprepared for the sharply profiled musical character, emotional fervor, and sheer energy of the playing. This was a pleasant surprise for one who usually finds these qualities lacking in Levine's always scrupulously prepared but strangely vacuous interpretations. I also applaud Levine for having the courage and humility to omit the "Leonore" Overture No. 3 between the two scenes of Act Two - a real sacrifice for a star conductor of "Fidelio," rather like asking Lucia to forgo her Mad Scene. The overture is, of course, a masterpiece, but out of place in this context, especially in a production so carefully thought out and dramatically riveting.

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