Anyone who has a conflicting engagement for 3 p.m. Sunday, June 25, should seriously consider cancelling it in order to see the repeat of Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” The Princeton Festival’s new production of Beethoven’s only opera is a splendid and seamlessly updated production.
Director Steven LaCosse, a veteran of Princeton Festival operas, and conductor Richard Tang Yuk, artistic director of the festival, are the collaborators who created this taut presentation. Moreover, they solved a major problem: providing essential background information absent from the opera itself. They did so by using Beethoven’s instrumental music to enact the missing back stories.
This “Fidelio” convincingly depicts a strike aimed against poverty as the setting for the opera. Authorities assault the strikers. The setting is Spain, as Beethoven prescribed. Placards with strikers’ slogans are in Spanish. Yet the action in this production takes place sometime after the year 2000, when the euro was accepted as the international currency unit among major European powers. Indeed, the euro is mentioned, even though Beethoven’s opera was first staged in 1805.
Don Pizarro, head of a Spanish prison, has thrown his adversary, Florestan, a Spanish nobleman, into the darkest dungeon of the prison. Leonore, Florestan’s wife, disguises herself as a man, adopts the name “Fidelio” (or Faithful), and finds employment as the assistant to Rocco, chief jailer of the prison. Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter, is expected to marry Jacquino, who works at the prison; however, she falls in love with “Fidelio.”
Eventually, Leonore/Fidelio prevents Pizarro from killing Florestan by threatening him with her concealed gun as she reveals herself as Florestan’s wife. The opera ends happily.
“Fidelio” is sung and spoken in German and has English titles. While the German diction is exemplary, the quantity of the original, repetitive spoken dialogue has been reduced to a minimum in order to maintain the momentum of the production.
Distinguished by their acting ability, as well as their vocal accomplishments, the performers are uniformly outstanding. Choruses of townspeople and prisoners add depth to the ensemble of individual voices.
Marcy Stonika’s “Fidelio” is a sympathetic character as she juggles her desire to find Florestan with her task of acting like a man. The huge range of her voice, solid in all registers, helps her convey her character’s complexity.
Noah Baetge’s Florestan is a unique presence when he finally emerges in Act Two. His smooth vocalism was authoritative, free of any trace of harshness.
Joseph Barron ably conveys the “bad guy” characteristics of Pizarro and establishes him as a bully through long notes, consistent volume, and use of sforzandi — or sudden force.
The gentle-voiced Gustav Andreassen’s Rocco is a sympathetic contrast with Pizarro and a representative of Beethoven’s idealism.
Danielle Talamantes as Rocco’s fickle daughter, Marzelline, delivers appropriately intense moments with excellent vocal control, in keeping with Marzelline’s character.
The design team of Jonathan Dahm Robertson, set design; Norman Coates, lighting; Marie Miller, costume design; and Monique Gaffney, wig and make-up design, contribute to the success of the Princeton Festival’s “Fidelio.”
Fidelio, Princeton Festival, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, Princeton. Sunday, June 25, 3 p.m. $35 to $140. 609-258-2787 or princetonfestival.org.