It’s the greatest maverick in the operatic repertoire, imperfectly put together, with two main roles that are almost impossible to sing. And yet when it comes together, it sets the pulse racing as no other. In the right hands, Beethoven’s hymn to liberty has sections of such expressive and emotional power that its defects simply do not count.
This much is proved by Strasbourg’s new production, which is itself not perfect but gets the essential parts right. The principal impulse comes from Marc Albrecht’s conducting that generates truly electrifying tension, studied grandeur and tonal depth from his Strasbourg Philharmonic. For his first appearance in the pit of the opera house, this was an auspiciously authoritative showing.
Anja Kampe’s plucky Leonore (left, with Jyrki Korhonen and John Wegner) and Jorma Silvasti’s warmly expressive Florestan are the other linchpins of the success. Their technique is stunning enough to make the triumphant duo O namenlose Freude sound easy despite its heftily pianistic contours.
They are seconded by some delightful singing from Christina Landshamer’s Marzelline and Sébastien Droy’s Jaquino, a marked contrast to Jyrki Korhonen’s out of tune Rocco and John Wegner’s uncouth shouting as the villain Pizarro.
Andreas Baaesler’s staging opts for the tyranny of bureaucratic despotism and peppers the staging with projections of Kafka’s quotes. Three cheers for Andreas Wilken’s magnificent sets that are in fact more 1940s Orwellian, towering stacks of archives and Bakelite telephones on desks.
Like most producers today, Baesler cannot end on the same idealistic high the music describes but has the released prisoners donning the same clone suits as their liberators. True, this respects Kafka’s pessimism but it is both spoilsport and hackneyed. He could also leave the cast alone from time to time – too many clothes spilling down the laundry chute in Florestan’s cell when he is delivering Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! But the acting is assured and the arrival of the minister visually striking. Baesler has a natural gift for good stage craft.
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