San Francisco Opera presents new production of Beethoven’s FIDELIO

Opera theater


San Francisco Opera’s return to live performances at the War Memorial Opera House continues from October 14-30 with a bold new production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. Caroline H. Hume’s musical director, Eun Sun Kim, conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, the Choir and participates in this monumental work in which love and courage triumph over tyranny. Director Matthew Ozawa’s interpretation of the work updates its original 18th-century prison setting into a modern government detention center. Soprano Elza van den Heever plays opera heroine Leonore leading a star cast that includes tenor Russell Thomas, bass baritone Greer Grimsley and bass James Creswell and Soloman Howard. Choral director Ian Robertson, who is retiring this year after 35 seasons, prepares the famous San Francisco Opera Choir for two exhilarating highlights of the lyrical repertoire: the famous Prisoner Choir from Act I and the finale. exuberant of Fidelio.

For the first time in its history, the San Francisco Opera will broadcast live select performances of the new production. Several virtual and in-person events and exhibitions will be presented to promote further discovery.

First performed in 1805 in a nearly empty Viennese theater due to the recent occupation of the city by Napoleon, Fidelio underwent two major revisions (and four openings) before the composer’s ode to freedom became the sustainable opera that it is today. The story follows Leonore who, disguised as a man, Fidelio, infiltrates a prison to find her wrongly imprisoned husband, Florestan. Faced with a powerful adversary, she discovers the courage to stand up against injustice. The contest in Fidelio between good and evil, darkness and light inspired Beethoven to create many loaded musical episodes, including Leonore’s pivot aria (“Abscheulicher!”), Florestan’s anguished solo (“Gott! Welch Dunkel yesterday “), a quartet of unequivocal grace. and the beauty (“Mir ist so wunderbar”) and rousing choral episodes that compare to the ecstatic energy of the composer’s Symphony No. 9.

Known for bringing insight and emotionally resonant experiences to cross-cultural interdisciplinary works, particularly through his Chicago-based MOZAWA incubator for artistic collaborations, American director Matthew Ozawa is firmly rooted in the opera world as a director. stage, musician and educator. Ozawa made his directorial debut with the Company last spring with Rossini’s in-car production of The Barber of Seville at the Marin Center, presented under strict COVID security protocols. This staging used a reconfigured version of the Alexander V. Nichols set originally created for Fidelio, which was completed even after its 2020 opening was canceled by the pandemic. Originally slated to coincide with worldwide celebrations of the composer’s 250th birthday in 2020, Ozawa’s contemporary vision for Fidelio remains a celebration of shared humanity amid the trials of political incarceration.

Ozawa, whose father was born in an American-Japanese internment camp in Wyoming during World War II, said: “At the heart of Fidelio is the heroism of a woman, a vision of the modern era. , whose personal sacrifice to free her husband from incarceration results in the release of all those who are imprisoned. Beethoven’s groundbreaking opera remains as relevant today as the many times it served as a symbol of hope for generations of people afflicted by forms of oppression. Our new production embraces the emotionally profound music of Beethoven while viewing the opera through a modern lens. My hope is that the experience of this opera not only helps us shed light on injustice, but reminds us that we too have the power to be agents of change. “

Nichols’ set for production includes a rotating cube of cells, interrogation rooms, and offices with projected CCTV feeds that show inmate activities across all areas of the detention center. The creative team also showcases the work of costume designer Jessica Jahn and lighting designers JAX Messenger and Justin A. Partier.

Eun Sun Kim, who opened her inaugural season as Music Director last month with Puccini’s Tosca – “a performance of dizzying intensity, subtle mood swings and piquant details” (San Francisco Chronicle) – directs the artistic strengths of the Company. As Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio offers lyrical and symphonic conductors a rare opportunity to bring the composer’s music into opera. For Kim, the job is a “dream project” with which to launch her musical direction in San Francisco and bring audiences to the Opera House for a shared cathartic experience.

Soprano Elza van den Heever makes her long-awaited return to the San Francisco Opera as Leonore. Since her debut with the Company in 2007 as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni while still an Adler member of the San Francisco Opera, van den Heever has become “one of the most important dramatic sopranos. of the world of opera ”(Opera News). His first Leonore at the Caramoor Festival 2016 was met with enthusiastic praise, including Fred Plotkin of Operavore who said: “Tunes like ‘Abscheulicher! Wo eilst of the hin? Birgit Nilsson and Hildegard Behrens. And yet van den Heever sang it at Caramoor with apparent ease, making beautiful sounds where even the most accomplished singers have seemed labored. Christopher Corwin of Parterre Box said: “It was exceptionally gratifying to witness deeper and more complex aspects of his art” and observed that van den Heever’s next appearances would immediately become “must see” events.

After acclaimed performances in works Bel Canto by Bellini and Donizetti with the San Francisco Opera, tenor Russell Thomas plays Florestan, the detained political dissident and husband of Leonore. Possessing “a magnificently polished tenor in power” (New York Times), Thomas has been widely acclaimed for his portrayals of the main heroes of opera. The Wall Street Journal said of his Florestan: “The superb Russell Thomas held nothing in his great air, his tenor bugle rising inexorably to the desperate cry of ‘Freiheit’, truly a man in extremis.

Taking roles in low voices in Beethoven’s opera, three loyal performers well known to San Francisco opera audiences. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, who triumphed on the War Memorial Opera House stage in 2018 as Wotan in Wagner’s Ring cycle, is Pizarro, the corrupt tyrant and enemy of Florestan. Bass James Creswell portrays Rocco, the manager of the establishment who hires Fidelio, unaware that “he” is, in fact, Leonore, looking for her missing husband. Bass Soloman Howard, who appeared earlier this season as Angelotti in the season opener of Puccini’s Tosca and is expected to sing the Commendatore in next summer’s new production of Don Giovanni de Mozart and a concert tribute to the music of Giuseppe Verdi, is the head of government Don Fernando. San Francisco Opera Fellows Adler Anne-Marie MacIntosh (Marzelline), Christopher Oglesby (Jaquino), Zhengyi Bai (first prisoner) and Stefan Egerstrom (second prisoner) complete the cast.

Beethoven’s Fidelio was first performed by the San Francisco Opera in 1937 with famous Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad as Leonore who took over the role in 1939 with Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior’s Florestan. Known for having sung Wagner’s operas together in the 1930s and 1940s, the famous vocal duo only once shared the stage of Beethoven’s opera in San Francisco. The following Leonores for the San Francisco opera included Regina Resnik, Inge Borkh, Birgit Nilsson, Gwyneth Jones, Hildegard Behrens and Christine Brewer. Great conductors have always been drawn to Fidelio and the Company has featured many prominent maestros on its podium for work in previous seasons, including Fritz Reiner, Erich Leinsdorf, Pierre Monteux and former musical directors of the Sir John Pritchard Company and Sir Donald Runnicles. Fidelio was last performed by the San Francisco Opera in 2005.

Sung in German with English surtitles, Fidelio’s six performances are scheduled for October 14 (7:30 p.m.), October 17 (2 p.m.), October 20 (7:30 p.m.), October 22 (7:30 p.m.), October 26 (7:30 p.m.) and October 30 (7:30 p.m.) ).