The Requiem had been planned in honor of the
late Edgar Baitzel, LAO’s chief operating officer who lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.
With the recent death of Luciano Pavarotti the Requiem took on double duty, but Baitzel had one
tribute to himself: during the Fidelio performances, conductor James Conlon honored a request
of Baitzel’s to insert the third Leonore overture between the two scenes of act two, as Gustav
Mahler had done.
At the second Fidelio performance on 9/15, Conlon and LAO orchestra’s powerful rendition of
Leonore III prompted many audience members to a rare mid-performance ovation, and at final
curtain, Conlon received the most rapturous applause, and understandably so.
But that is not at all to suggest that the rest of the performance was not creditable, for all in all,
director and designer Pier’Alli’s production is dramatic, incisive, and brilliantly designed. Act
one’s set features a set of creepy torture devices, with restraints and spikes. Towering walls of
dark gray concrete, with metallic grills suggesting the prisoner’s cells, tower over the act one
action, which starts in domestic humdrum and grows increasingly darker.
With act two, Pier’Alli uses filmed sequences which take the creepy imagery of act one into an
atmosphere not unlike a torture-porn film, as the audience is pulled down through a fearsome
labyrinth where Florestan lies chained. He is not seen until after his initial cry of “Gott,”
whereupon the scrim on which the film has been projected clears. Deep in the background of the
set Pier’Alli and projection designer Sergio Metalli of Ideogramma have found a way to
duplicate images, giving a spooky sense of depth. After Leonore has rescued her husband, the
stage darkens for the overture, and reopens to brightness, as the final joyful chorus rings out
before a kaleidoscope-effect of heraldry images.
What Pier’Alli has created neither overwhelms the truthful plainness of the libretto’s narrative
nor tries to distract from it. Fidelio may never be a model for dramatic cohesion, but when the
musical values are high, it is a masterpiece that benefits from a production both as respectful and
eye-catching as this one.
Vocally, the star of the evening is Anja Kampe as Fidelio/Leonore. As with many a soprano, she
does not make the most convincing male, but that becomes an irrelevance as soon as she sings.
Full-voiced, secure throughout her range (some weak low notes withstanding), she projected both
the character’s bravery and trepidation as she seeks a way to save her spouse. The big aria came
across as a coherent narrative, not just a display of vocal force, although she had all the power
Klaus Florian Vogt has a Tamino-tinged voice with a surprising amount of force that makes him
a creditable Florestan. He seemed to tire near the end of his long aria, disappointingly right at the
brighter music that would seem to suit his voice best. He recovered nicely for the rest of the act.
A taller man with a modest but appealing stage presence, he will surely be a very valuable
performer for years to come.
Matti Salminen has proved his value over the length of his career. At this point, he has most of
his power though somewhat less of the tonal allure of his prime, but he is a stage performer who
can, with minimal effort, embody a character. His Rocco suited the state of hie voice – somewhat
weary, but still at heart a good, caring soul. Eike Wilm Schulte (about half the height of
Salminen’s Rocco) also found a match between his rather brash, unsubtle voice and the character
of Don Pizarro. Ultimately, a bit more subtlety both in acting and vocalizing would be to his (and
the audience’s) advantage. As the “ingenues” Jacquino and Marzellini, neither Greg Fedderly nor
Rebekah Camm appeared all that young, but they both sang with respectable professionalism.
As mentioned at the top, in his second year as music director for LAO, James Conlon has already
captured the affection and respect of the Chandler audience. They roared their approval for his
leadership of the orchestra. Conlon favors the restless energy of Beethoven’s score, but he
doesn’t slight the occasional lyricism of act one. In the slower sections of the Leonore III, the
sound seemed to die almost as if ensemble had been lost, and then come roaring back. It’s a tight,
pointed sound, well-suited to accompanying the singers. Some may want a more ostentatiously
dramatic approach, but the LAO patrons were obviously very pleased with their music director.
Pier’Alli’s production is shared with the Palua de les Arts Reine Sofia in Valencia, Spain. Unless
one is planning an extended holiday there, be advised that this LAO Fidelio is strong enough to
merit an LA trip for opera lovers far and wide.
image_description=Anja Kampe as Fidelio (LAO, photo by Robert Millard)
product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
Los Angeles Opera, 15 September 2007
product_by=Above Anja Kampe as Fidelio
Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera