Rhinegold Photo credit: Johan Persson
Katherine Broderick as Leonore and Toby Spence as Florestan

Michael White

Garsington’s Fidelio transcends the prison of COVID restrictions

3:51, 18th September 2020


Fidelio  Beethoven


Garsington’s abbreviated, small-scale, semi-staged Fidelio delivered without a chorus would have barely registered as worth a journey a year ago. But last month,  after a summer starved of live opera, I was delighted to be at this performance. It may not have been optimal, but it was a joy.

Social distancing meant that face-on engagement hardly got beyond a distant look across an empty space. And Leonore’s reunion with her husband could have been a rendezvous at Tesco’s for all the physicality of mutual love it generated.

But the director Peter Mumford had at least tried to extract some meaning from these restrictions, processing them into a show where every cast-member was effectively  imprisoned, just like Florestan, in his or her own space.

Something else that indicated prison was a back-screen showing images of gloomily forbidding architecture and supplying the missing chorus, who came pre-recorded. Though neither the sound quality nor the coordination of separately filmed singers was perfect, it made strangely moving work of the prisoners’ chorus, and was effective as the cameras closed in on a Zoom-mosaic of faces.

Zoom had actually been crucial to the preparation of this show, with Mumford caught in quarantine and forced to run rehearsals online. And when the screen wasn’t generating gloom, it ran commentaries that stood in for the spoken dialogue. This was no tragedy: the dialogue is the opera’s curse, dragging the pace. Without it, there remained a certain awkwardness but the whole apparatus of the score moved more decisively.

A chamber group of 13 from the Philharmonia Orchestra played one to a part. It sounded thin, but conductor  Douglas Boyd did a convincing job: there was excitement, drama, sensitivity, commitment. It felt special – full of detail that I’d never previously noticed.

Katherine Broderick’s Leonore was a tour de force and Toby Spence made a sympathetically boyish Florestan. I was impressed by the young tenor Trystan Llŷr Griffiths who sang Jacquino and turned a potentially annoying minor role into something to take note of.

All credit to Garsington for creating something so worthwhile in difficult circumstances.

Read Michael White’s full review in Opera Now’s November/December issue

During lockdown in July, Garsington Opera live streamed a concert that featured the sublime quartet from Fidelio, ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’. Listen to Soraya Mafi, Nardus Williams,  Sam Furness and Joshua Bloom below.

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