Love can save the day

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By Melissa Riedel-Espinoza

This season, for the first time, The Santa Fe Opera presents Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio,” a true masterpiece that must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. This production, staged with care and thought, is not to be missed.
“Fidelio” is the story of Florestan, a man taken prisoner by a political enemy. Driven by her great love, his wife Leonore dresses like a boy she calls Fidelio and goes to where Florestan is imprisoned to try to save him. The director’s choice of era in which to stage this production is a great one, and the costumes and staging work together to help the audience relate to the idea that the fight against injustice and tyranny are ongoing.
Bulgarian Soprano Alex Penda has an impressive instrument that demonstrates great flexibility along with astonishing dynamic control. Penda’s delicate high pianissimi are perfection, and her chesty lower notes are surprisingly resonant. It is difficult to imagine a more suitable voice for Leonore. Florestan doesn’t appear until later in the opera; however, tenor Paul Groves leaves a lasting impression on the audience. His voice is a superb match for Penda’s and his acting is effective without being overdone.
Devon Guthrie and Joshua Dennis, as Marzelline and Jaquino, are another perfectly matched pair with great chemistry. Their lyric voices contrast nicely with Penda’s, as well as with the heavier bass sound of Marzelline’s Father, Rocco, sung by Manfred Hemm. This vocal variety makes the ensemble pieces (notably the gorgeous “Canon” Quartet in the First Act) some of the most outstanding in the entire opera.
The chorus has been enlarged for this opera, and the extra voices enhance the sound greatly. In the first act, the male prisoners are given the chance to go outside and see the sun again for a short while, and their singing is outstanding. This large group of men pulls back to sing softly, resulting in an unbelievably poignant, sweet tone.
The costumes work very well and the staging is phenomenal, as the stage never looks over-crowded, even with such a large group. The orchestra, under the baton of Harry Bicket, sounds fabulous and well controlled. Beethoven’s full score gives them a chance to shine, and while they have moments in which they are able to let go and fill the space with their beautiful music, they never cover the singers, even during the quietest passages.
This opera, while dealing with heavier subject matter, never feels overwhelmingly sad. “Fidelio” is full of hope that love will, indeed, save the day. This opera is captivating and interesting the whole way through, and it is appropriate for opera lovers of all ages, although it may not hold the attention of young children.
“Fidelio” is a difficult undertaking; the roles are incredibly demanding, and the ensemble sections require careful balancing and perfect timing.
Beethoven had his struggles with this opera, but in the end his hard work paid off with a thought-provoking work of art that still enriches and engages audiences.