Economy-sized Fidelio packed with dramatic value

Nobody knows when precisely Beethoven was born. Informed opinion puts his birthday sometime during 1770, so the international musical community has labelled all of 2020 as Beethoven's 250th year.

In Singapore, The Opera People have been among the first to get in on the act by presenting Beethoven's Fidelio over two nights in conjunction with The Arts House's own Prologue Festival.

The Opera People never step away from a challenge, but even they fought shy of giving audiences the whole opera.

Instead, they presented a heavily redacted and edited version which played out in precisely one hour.

This cleverly avoided the pitfalls that Beethoven's only opera puts in the way of any who dares attempt it.

There was no huge orchestra for the singers to battle against. Instead, pianist Pamela Krakauer bravely did battle on her own - and with signal success - with a daunting piano reduction.

The political machinations, which proved so controversial in Beethoven's time that performances were banned and the premiere cancelled time and time again, were expunged, leaving concertgoers just with the story of Leonore (splendidly performed by Felicia Teo Kaixin in fine, strong voice) dressing up as a man, Fidelio, to rescue her husband, Florestan (David Charles Tay) from prison.



    The Opera People

    The Arts House Chamber

    Last Saturday

She was successful, but the chemistry between Teo and Tay was just not there and it was difficult to see why she had taken all that trouble when, in the end, she seemed so indifferent towards the poor man.

The Arts House Chamber was a highly effective setting which director Moira Loh used to its full advantage, giving atmosphere to the performance through some varied lighting effects.

And there was certainly something deliciously ironic about seeing Pizarro (Alvin Tay) accused of corruption on the floor of the former parliament chamber, where the very word corruption had never previously been uttered without accusatory glances.

All the same, it was a shame Pizarro turned out to be the baddie, for Alvin Tay was by far and away the most powerful and impressive figure vocally.

As for Florestan, his emergence on the vocal scene from a dishevelled heap on the floor was a breathtaking moment, but David Charles Tay's voice quickly succumbed to the strain of Beethoven's unsympathetic writing.

David Tao Chen Ming was the aged gaoler, Rocco, very much caught between a rock and a hard place.

Vocally, he held his own without making much of an impact, but his was the most convincing character acting of them all, eliciting real sympathy from the large and highly supportive audience.

Joyce Lee Tung (as Rocco's daughter Marzelline) and Jonathan Charles Tay (as her hapless lover Jaquino) never really got into their admittedly elusive characters, but their value was in the exquisitely delivered ensemble numbers.

This may have been an economy-sized Fidelio, but it was packed full of outstanding musical and dramatic value.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline Economy-sized Fidelio packed with dramatic value. Subscribe