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By the time of Beethoven’s death in 1827, tyranny had moved on from the evils of ancien régime absolutism and French revolutionary libertarianism. And by the time Jürgen Flimm directed Beethoven’s opera for New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2000, tyranny had also moved on from nazism and communism, and he duly tried to reflect this. Seven years later, with Flimm’s staging now adopted by the Royal Opera, the perspective has changed again and his 20th-century version already looks dated.

The only constant that addresses tyranny’s ongoing manifestations is what the Royal Opera’s programme calls a “sustaining ethical vision” – the belief in universal justice that keeps Florestan alive until his rescue by the heroic Leonore. That vision, as articulated by Beethoven’s music, carries us over the leaden impulse of the Royal Opera’s performance.

This Fidelio inhabits the den of iniquity known as “co-production city” – it served a purpose in the context for which it was originally staged but seems peculiarly inert
now. Take away the state-penitentiary veneer of Robert Israel’s designs and Florence von Gerkan’s costumes, and you have a deeply conventional view of the work, as tepid as it is melodramatic. Some responsibility must lie with Antonio Pappano, who has a wretched time with the orchestra. In such circumstances the absence of Leonore No 3 – the inspiring overture usually interpolated to facilitate the Act 2 scene-change – can be counted a blessing.

The one good reason to catch this production is Karita Mattila, who switches on an electric charge whenever she sings. Leonore is one role for which the Finnish soprano’s height is an advantage – and her vocal stature is no less impressive, thanks to some thrilling top notes and an easy command of “Abscheulicher!”. Next to her, the chorus (chorusmaster: Renato Balsadonna) is the most impressive contributor. Endrik Wottrich is a potentially exciting Florestan, let down by tight voice production.

Experience oozes from Eric Halfvarson’s Rocco and Robert Lloyd’s Minister, and Ailish Tynan is the engaging Marzelline. As for Terje Stensvold’s Pizarro, it seems a pity such an honest-looking and fine-sounding gent should have to sing the cardboard baddie.
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