Fidelio is not a conventional opera. For many reasons it can be ‘mission impossible’ for directors, said Vladimir Jurowski at the pre-talk last night, just before he got on the podium to conduct and perform with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO).
For one thing, Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera, and its development took on various stages due to some political censorship. He originally wanted to name it Leonore or The Triumph of Marital Love, yet the censors were actively stalling its premiere in 1805 until the opera had been radically changed. This resulted with an amended libretto that eventually premiered in 1814 at the Theater am Kärntnertor, Vienna. Thirdly, there’s the unusual structure; the combination of Rescue Opera (literally an opera about someone being rescued which was very popular in the early 18th century in French and Germany) and spoken dialogue, that is Singspiel.
Now, in 2017, Daniel Slater has directed a semi-stage production with soloists and chorus singers moving between and around Jurowski and the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall. The rescue narrative follows Leonore disguising herself as a prison guard called Fidelio to save her husband Florestan who has been unjustly imprisoned by political despot Pizarro. The first act sees everyone, including the LPO, dressed down. Yet, unexpectedly, in between the musical numbers two actors, Helen Ryan and Simon Williams, provide a meta narrative, and some pearls of wisdom or do they?