Sunday, January 26, 2003

Beethoven opera 'Fidelio' comes to life under Jarvi



By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"Praise with blazing joy Leonore's noble courage," sings the chorus at the glorious conclusion of Beethoven's Fidelio. It was a blazing finish to a powerful performance of Beethoven's only opera, given in a concert version by Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Music Hall Friday night.

Just a week after a breathtaking performance of Mahler's Sixth, Mr. Jarvi was again on the podium for a probing, noble and richly detailed performance of Fidelio. His reading was clear, strong and sweeping; arias and ensembles were allowed to breathe, but momentum never slackened. (He'll make his debut with the same opera at Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy, in May.)

The plot is the stuff of "rescue" opera: Florestan has been unjustly imprisoned, and his wife, Leonore, disguised as Fidelio, saves him from death at the hands of Pizarro, the prison governor. Though historians have made Freudian interpretations of Beethoven's meaning, the message may be simpler: that anyone with conviction and courage can fight injustice.

A superb ensemble of operatic voices walked on and off an elevated stage, positioned between the May Festival Chorus (men only in Act I) and the orchestra, lowered slightly into the pit.

Mr. Jarvi's Overture was magnificent and full of contrast, with robust strings in Beethoven's stormy outbursts. The adrenalin accelerated seamlessly into Act I, where Mary Elizabeth Southworth (Marzellina) and David Cangelosi (Jaquino) dispatched their duet with charm and an undeniable indebtedness to Mozart.

The soloists performed well as an ensemble, despite a last-minute cast change. (Jon Villars, who is ill, was replaced in the role of Florestan by Latvian tenor Sergij Larin.)

As Leonore, Christine Brewer delivered a performance that conveyed the full range of emotion. She projected an arresting timbre and peerless diction. She handled the vocal acrobatics of her first act aria, "Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?" with impressive agility, a wonderful moment accompanied by horn fanfares. In this singspiel (with spoken dialogue) she consistently captured the drama of the text.

Mr. Larin made a significant debut as Florestan, her imprisoned husband. His Act II aria was impassioned and powerful; his tenor was firm, incisive and ringing.

Equally impressive was bass Eric Owens, who brought resonance to his role of the jailer, Rocco. Baritone Donnie Ray Albert's Pizarro had sinister overtones, and bass Lester Lynch was a benevolent Don Fernando.

Several moments had heart-stopping beauty: the quartet, "Mir ist so wunderbar," for instance; the orchestra's crisp, deliberate March, and the Prisoner's Chorus, which grew in awe as it unfolded. The May Festival Chorus, prepared by Robert Porco, performed admirably, with crisp enunciation and balanced forces, and the CSO's playing was precise and glorious.

E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com




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