Glyndebourne, Lewes
Frederic Wake-Walker’s production for Glyndebourne on Tour adds video and even a new character to Beethoven’s opera

A casualty of last year’s cancelled festival, Frederic Wake-Walker’s new staging of Beethoven’s Fidelio has now finally entered the repertory of Glyndebourne on Tour, although its opening performances are restricted to Glyndebourne itself.

Like many directors of late, Wake-Walker distrusts – and therefore gets rid of – the original dialogue, replacing it with a monologue spoken by an additional character of his own creation, a schoolteacher named Estella (Gertrude Thoma). She is shocked from a life complacently “censoring children’s dreams”, after coming into possession (we are not told how) of an inflammatory letter from Leonore (Dorothea Herbert) to Florestan (Adam Smith). Like Tobias Kratzer’s Covent Garden production last year, the opera consequently becomes a meditation on the nature of political engagement as we witness an on-stage reaction to its narrative and meaning.

Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish hangs over Wake-Walker’s imagery, since Anna Jones’s imposing set is a panopticon, a form of prison architecture held up by Foucault as an emblematic model of social control and oppression. Wake-Walker, however, adds video into the mix, as an on-stage camera crew films the singers in unremitting closeup, projecting the footage on to the panopticon’s walls. The end result is by no means unmoving, but the overriding impression is one of overload: this would all be so much more powerful if it were actually simpler.

The performances, though, carry us through. Herbert is a tremendous Leonore, warm-voiced and splendidly accurate, while Smith makes a handsome-sounding Florestan, noble and principled throughout. Callum Thorpe’s Rocco starts out as a man with his eye to the main chance, but soon finds himself questioning his motives when faced with Dingle Yandell’s quietly sinister Pizarro. Carrie-Ann Williams is a spirited Marzelline, Gavan Ring the unusually unsympathetic Jaquino, played as a hothead prone to violence. In the pit, GoT’s music director Ben Glassberg propels the score forward with great intensity and attention to detail. The choral singing is excellent.

Fidelio is in rep at Glyndebourne until 31 October.

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