Last week I posted a link to the Bayerische Staatsoper Beethoven Fidelio. (Use this link for photos). Jonas Kaufmann, of course, plus an eyeful/earful of him at the interval. No need for costume and makeup when you're playing a decrepit prisoner? Very good singing - Anja Kampe, Franz-Josef Selig (Rocco), Wolfgang Koch (Don Pizarro), Steven Humes (Don Fernando), Laura Tatulescu and Jussi Myllys. I liked Kampe's solid, resourceful Leonore - the woman is no wimp. Nice firm intonation, purposeful. Shame she had to go put on a dress and go back to being a Hausfrau.
Musically I think I prefer Stemme, Kaufmann and Abbado at Lucerne, but this Munich version is outstanding because of the production. How would you create the image of an infernal prison where the inmates are dehumanized? Calixto Bieito and designer Rebecca Ringst create a maze-like structure like the circuitry of an infernal machine. A prison for the internet age. We're all trapped in this system. Look at the photos - lights as bright as interrogation chambers, lights that flicker across the structure like mindless drills. As soon as you get your head round the configuratiuon, the maze alters shape and you're thrown off again. Yet the set doesn't intrude. The principals sing in front of it for the most part, starkly defined. Could Beethoven have imagined this? He wasn't into theatrical action so much as symphony with narrative and singing. And it's quite possible that he would have got the concept of suppression and the abuse of power in a wider cosmic sense.
In this staging, the orchestral passages come totally into their own. The prisoners slowly crawl out from inside the maze, having been hitherto invisible. When Leonore and Rocco descend into the darkest deepest dungeon, the overture becomes terrifyingly gri : aerial artists are seen descending through the structure, tied precariously to guy wires. It feels dangerous : but then that's what the journey means.
Later when Leonore and Florestan are reunited, they switch back to street clothes, their dignity restored. What to do with the long orchestral interlude? Florestan and Leonore look upwards and listen, their minds presumably fixed on abstract, noble ideals. And so we listen, too, for this music expresses more than words or scenery. Suspended above the maze are cells - not prison cells but small spaces where musicians are playing. Conceptually brilliant. Through music and spiritual integrity, we might all break out.
This time the prisoners emerge, some with blank placards where presumably their identities should be. Then the masterstroke - Don Fernando. The character is so unreal, it's ludicrous. As if the injustice of centuries can be overturned by simple fiat? We don't know who Don Fernando really is or why he's really popping up, except to end the story. Bieito instead expands the role. This version is a crazed clown, white face and smeared red lipstick, who appears from on high, in a box abouve the stage. A God or a Devil? He does and sings the right things, but we're left wondering, is it all a nefarious ruse? Thought provoking and unsettling. If you want joke Fidelio, there's alway the moronic Jurgen Flimm production (see Literalism Murders Truth). In Bieito's Munich production, Florestan and Leonore triumph because they have vision. Flimm's production is not only the denial of vision, but of basic imagination.