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Fidelio – Edinburgh festival 2013 review


Festival Theatre

Jonathan Mills, director of the international festival, has a taste, it would seem, for perversity and outrage when it comes to opera production. During his tenure we have seen the protagonists of Strauss's Capriccio tangle with the Gestapo, Handel's Admeto reworked as a mixture of butoh and Japanese horror flick, and Graun's Montezuma turned into a garbled commentary on the Americanisation of modern Mexico. His latest piece of provocation, courtesy of Opéra de Lyon, is Beethoven's Fidelio set in outer space.

The staging is the work of the Seattle-based multimedia artist Gary Hill, who, for whatever reason, has reimagined Beethoven's opera in terms of Harry Martinson's 1956 sci-fi poem Aniara about an off-course spaceship doomed to destruction unless help arrives. Bits of Martinson have been added to the text, the dialogue of which has also been rewritten. "Our spaceship is a tiny bubble in a glass of God," we are mystifyingly informed at one point. Erika Sunnegårdh's Leonore talks about the time technicians waste mending lasers. Florestan (handsome Nikolai Schukoff) is "the radical leftist" held in "the high-security unit" in "the bowels of Aniara". And so it goes on.

On stage, meanwhile, the cast are marooned in the middle of a vast video installation, as geometric shapes, spaceship interiors and footage of marching astronauts whirl round them. Rocco's gold aria gets a heavyweight anti-capitalist gloss. Pizarro (Pavlo Hunka) and Fernando (Andrew Schroeder) are transvestites, for reasons that escape me.

Unlike some of Mills's previous imports, this is at least musically cogent and impressive. There's classy conducting from Kazushi Ono; Sunnegårdh and Schukoff give performances of blazing intensity. But Hill's intervention robs Beethoven's masterpiece of its essential humanity and replaces it with unforgivable and irrelevant gimmickry. Martinson's Aniara, meanwhile, was turned into an opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl in 1959: it's no masterpiece, but its revival would have made better sense than this.

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Rating: 2/5

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