Garsington Opera opened its 25th anniversary season with a revival of Fidelio (13 July 2014), first heard (albeit not by me) in 2009, the opera company’s final year in Garsington village. Now planted just beyond the ha-ha of the Getty’s Wormsley estate, the extraordinary new opera house is a slightly incongruous setting for the bleakness of Fidelio’s prison, although it was a delight to see the prisoners brought into the (fading) light and out over the bridge into the ornamental gardens. But Fidelio remains a troublesome work. The elevated ideals that inspired Beethoven compositional struggles are marred by compromise of structure and plot, not least the rather inconsequential love scenes between Marzelline and Jaquino. Fidelio is frequently used as a vehicle for the political aspirations of the director, thereby overlying additional layers of complexity, usually very far from the original plot. But here, John Cox’s production plays it commendably straight, supported by period costumes and a neutral staging.
The character portrayals are convincing, notable in a young Fidelio/Leonore, sung with absolute integrity by the delightful Rebecca von Lipinski – a most impressive singer and actor, and equally believable in male and female incarnations. Stephen Richardson’s Rocco contrasted power with compassion – a nice twist is that it seems pretty clear that he knows exactly who Fidelio is. Peter Wedd’s Florestan dominated the second half, the sombre mood aided as the setting evening sun of the first half faded. Joshua Bloom’s Minister contrasted with the pantomime antics of Darren Jeffery’s Pizarro. Douglas Boyd conducted the house orchestra, playing modern instruments, with a fine sense of style and pace.