Fidelio, Grand Théâtre, Geneva

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It is difficult to avoid making Fidelio feel like two distinct works, a mainly frivolous first act that is singspiel in the Mozartian tradition and a second with its dramatically stirring hymn to freedom. Stein Winge, in this co-production with Leipzig, first seen in January, somehow makes it feel like three.

Kari Gravklev’s sets start in a drab East German guards’ room with pigeonholes for mail and ladies’ and gents’ toilets. A scrawny garden dominates centre rear and the dazed prisoners appear from behind to sing their famous chorus. Florestan’s cell is like a giant empty box of Kleenex turned on its side.

The climax of the opera takes place on an empty stage with a chorus, on superb form, in T-shirts bearing the portraits of political prisoners. From Stasi to Godspell in less than two hours.

It is a pale thesis, dogged by black-and-white characterisation. The more complicated Rocco is spoilt by Duccio Dal Monte’s insecure acting but Pizarro, sung and sometimes shouted by Eike Wilm Schulte with sharp projection, is memorable as a seething ball of spite imprisoned in a wheelchair. At the interval, the odds were on his trying to kill Florestan by racing into him, but in the event he whipped out a dagger from a custom-made sheath and lunged ineffectually.

The two brave contenders for Beethoven’s impossible vocal lines were Kim Begley as a noble, moving Florestan and Lisa Livingston as a back- packing Leonora. She started well with focused tone but the voice soon spread under pressure. Regina Klepper was a sweet yet powerful Marzelline, Peter Marsh a likeable Jaquino. The Suisse Romande pulled out the stops for a vigorous Woldemar Nelsson.

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