The story of Fidelio is a simple one. Leonore (Rachel Nicholls) under the guise of a man (Fidelio) infiltrates a Spanish prison in order to free her husband Florestan (Toby Spence), who is a political prisoner. Meanwhile Don Pizarro (Robert Hayward), the governor of the prison and very man responsible for the wrongful imprisonment of Florestan intends to kill him before Don Fernando (Matthew Stiff) can arrive and uncover the cruelty taking place within the prison walls.
The orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel, was magnificent. Being socially distanced and taking up most of the stage, it was a different setup, and one which the musicians will have grown accustomed too, but the sound was rich, textured and balanced, and I would have been quite content to listen to it all night.
One of the things we all love about opera is the grandness of the production, and one had to wonder how it would work in a concert scenario that included social distancing. I anticipated that perhaps the chorus scenes would be cut, or that the orchestra would have been reduced. Neither was the case – Opera North made bold decisions in using every inch of The Lowry’s stage, with the chorus singing from the back (also socially distanced), which had no effect on the sound balance. The chorus were splendid, and even the solo prisoners (Stuart Laing and James Davies) did an incredible job of voice production – it was clear and distinguished, especially from so far back on that huge stage.
The cast were phenomenal. The thing I enjoy about Fidelio is that every time it starts to dry out a new character or theme is introduced to freshen it up, and it probably does this better than any other opera I have seen. During the opening we were treated to a stunning duet from Marzelline (Fflur Wyn) and Jaquino (Oliver Johnston), before the entry of Brindley Sherratt in the role of Rocco. Sherratt was a highlight of the opera, with a voice so rich and resonant that it was impossible not to enjoy every note. As further characters are introduced the show gets richer and more textured and I enjoyed every second of it. The introduction of Spence in the second act was a joy. Spence sings with utter control and character throughout his lengthy aria, and it was a joy to behold – from his first note I was hooked on his voice.
The performance of Nicholls in the lead role was inspired, her voice capable to character, prowess and agility. More than this, Nicholls gave great consideration to her physicality, giving us the opportunity to hear more than just a beautiful voice, but see a strong, smart character form in front of our eyes. I enjoyed Nicholls performance above all else in this production.
In general, opera without the opulence lacks the fantastic experience we have become accustomed to of Opera North, but the production is enjoyable none-the-less, with much for the ears to appreciate. Many congratulations to Opera North on producing such a fine piece of work in these most difficult of times. https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on
Reviewer: Harriet Andrews
Reviewed: 15th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★