Regular readers will know we are admirers of Donald Runnicles at this blog, well our name is a bit of a giveaway. His performances of concert opera at the International Festival over the years have consistently been highlights, and it's been really excellent news that after the baffling gap of the Mills era, Linehan has in recent Festivals resumed inviting Runnicles to give concert opera. I sincerely hope Nicola Benedetti will continue to do so when she takes over as Artistic Director next year.
My history of staged Fidelios has been pretty dismal, in fact I think I've probably seen more failed productions of this opera than of any other. The last time the Festival included the work was a candidate for the worst opera staging I've ever seen, and since then the Royal Opera and Glyndebourne have added problematic productions. It occurred to me after this performance that directors perhaps start from the premise that the work is a problem and feel they have to do drastic things to it - not least because of the chunks of spoken dialogue. Somewhat to my surprise Runnicles had decided to include some narrative summary between the musical numbers here - adapted by Sir David Pountney and delivered by Sir Willard White (also singing Don Fernando). The odd thing for me was that as the performance went on I think I was tending to tune the summary out and feeling the musical performance as a compelling drama in its own right. Maybe it's because I now know the work well and my mind could fill in the gaps, but I also think it's to do with how much is there in the libretto and Beethoven's music, assisted here by the deeply felt performances of all the musicians on stage. In other words it really struck me that actually this work doesn't have to be nearly such a problem piece as directors have so often seemed determined to treat it - everything you need is there for powerful emotional drama - done more straightforwardly on stage as it essentially was here it could be gripping, moving - as this was for me.