Sarasota Opera offers a dramatic and largely rewarding “Fidelio”

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Kara Shay Thomson and Michael Robert  Hendrick in Beethoven's "Fidelio" at Sarasota Opera. Photo: Rod-Millington

Kara Shay Thomson and Michael Robert Hendrick in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at Sarasota Opera. Photo: Rod Millington

“It’s nice to hear opera in German for a change,” said one member of the audience for Beethoven’s Fidelio at Sarasota Opera.

Though the house is best known for Italian rep–Verdi, in particular–Sarasota’s excursions into other languages and genres have often paid dividends as well. Such was the case Sunday afternoon when the company mounted a largely rewarding production of Beethoven’s sole opera with its paean to human freedom.

There are few more taxing roles then the two leads in Beethoven’s tale of Leonora, who disguises herself as a boy to rescue her husband Florestan from the dungeon where he is unjustly imprisoned  by the corrupt governor Don Pizarro.

The fulcrum of Sunday’s matinee was the conductor Ekhart Wycik, who clearly knows his Beethoven. The conductor drew consistently vital and dramatic playing with fine balancing, and supported the singers with fine skill. In addition to the Fidelio Overture, Wycik also elicited a resounding performance of the Leonora Overture No. 3, inserted as an entr’acte before the final scene.

Kara Shay Thomson is an inspired actress, and brought committed characterization to the faithful Leonora. Her soprano is ample in size, but somewhat unvaried in tone and coloring. Still, she brought undeniable excitement to the climax of the dungeon scene and sang with passion, dedication and technical security throughout.

The same can’t be said for Michael Robert Hendrick’s less-than-heroic Florestan. While he acted well as Leonore’s prisoned beloved, Hendrick’s dry, garrulous tenor was as unkempt as his wig and long prison beard, with tuneless singing miles wide of proper pitch. Rocco, please take Florestan back down to the dungeon.

As Rocco, the not-so-bright jailer, Harold Wilson showed an ample somewhat woolly bass, but brought worthy acting as Marzelline’s father.

Vanessa Isiguen was a delightful Marzelline, singing with a bright, youthful soprano and wholly disarming as Rocco’s spunky daughter, who falls in love with “Fidelio,” the disguised Leonora. Christopher Trapani was solid as her frustrated admirer, Jaquino

The towering Sean Anderson achieved excellent nasty as Don Pizarro, properly odious and singing with a deep, warm baritone. Jeffrey Beruan made an imposing Don Fernando, officially restoring civic and moral order in the final scene. There was polished and powerful singing once again from the Sarasota Opera Chorus under Roger L. Bingaman’s direction.

The traditional staging proved effective with an especially atmospheric dungeon (sets by Michael Schweikardt, costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, and lIghting by Ken Yunker). Tom Diamond directed admirably, keeping the action, moving and avoiding unwonted hilarity, not always easy in this work.

Fidelio runs through March 11.

Posted in Performances

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Tue Mar 1, 2016
at 5:30 pm
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