A staple of the operatic repertoire, Beethoven’s only opera continues to be regularly revived and treated with respect by opera companies across the globe, and it’s easy to see why. Fidelio is rich in character, if not necessarily story, and contains a glorious musical score that, in this new production originated by Scottish Opera, is played with much panache and gusto by the Orchestra of Opera North under the direction of Sir Richard Armstrong.
The plot concerns feisty and heroic Leonore (Emma Bell) who, disguised as male prison guard named Fidelio, plots to and succeeds in rescuing her husband Florestan (Steven Harrison) from death at the hands of Don Pizarro, the Governor of the prison (Andrew Foster Williams).
In the title role Bell carries much of the evening on her capable shoulders and as well as possessing a fine alto voice also proves that she can convincingly act. Soprano Fflur Wyn plays, with an endearing innocence, Marzelline who, somewhat unfortunately, falls in love with Fidelio and is the daughter of good hearted jailer Jaquino, an impressive Joshua Ellicot.
The Chorus of Opera North is also in fine form in this production and their exuberance well matches that on display from the principal performers.
It’s a shame the excellent performances are let down by a shabby and lifeless physical production. Stewart Laings set utilising a series of small black framed boxes does manage to evoke a sense of claustrophobia but after a while this becomes uncomfortable and it’s such a relief when the stage opens out to a broader size.
Peter Mumford’s dingy lighting design also reflects this sense of oppression but too often leaves performers poorly lit and the small amount of colour and brightness introduced towards the finale is somewhat feeble considering the joyful conclusion to the plot.
As a production - Fidelio is not one of Opera North’s better efforts but to fans of Beethoven I recommend it wholeheartedly. However, I would advise switching off during the action and concentrate on simply enjoying the sublime music and singing.