The In Series ends their season with Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, a surprisingly modern tale of faith – particularly between husband and wife. This is their biggest production ever and one of the most challenging operas to mount musically. The In Series pulls it off with aplomb. Ludwig van Beethoven wrote the music with an original libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner and Georg Friedrich Treitschke. The opera premiered in 1805.
Much of the credit belongs to Director Nick Olcott who has also written a new English libretto, which sets the opera in a South American country ruled by a military junta in the 1970’s. It works really well. The story of Leonora trying to break her husband out of prison feels more like a modern thriller than a Victorian drama with this update. The drama is helped by an impressive set by Elizabeth McFadden made of sheet metal and barbed wire with dramatic back lit columns by Lighting Designer Marianne Meadows. Costume Designer Donna Breslin summons the seventies with military uniforms and prison uniforms that add to the setting.
One reason Fidelio is not performed as often as many other operas is how challenging the score is. Stanley Thurston and his 14-person orchestra conjure a complete symphony for the complicated and affecting pieces including an extended overture. Many of Beethoven’s more popular works are echoed in the dramatic timpani and precise rhythms of the piece.
Beethoven more often composed choral pieces and that four part harmony shines in this opera with multiple trios and quartets singing in round or against each other, presenting a particular challenge for the singers, especially on “In this dark cell, we’ve come to know each other” and the overwhelming finale, “If in love you’ve found true glory.”
The heart of the opera is the couple Leonora (Sarah Greenspan) and Florestan (Joe Haughton). Greenspan begins the opera in drag, trying to break into the prison holding her husband while fending off the advances of Marcelita (Randa Rouweyha), who in turn is fending off the advances of Joaquino (Jesus D. Hernandez).
Hernandez opens the opera in a strong tenor with “Chiquilla! I’m glad that you’re here!” Rouweyha shines early on with the vocally tricky and comedic, “Amor! Amor! Fidelio!”
Finally, we see Florestan in act two in a stunning performance of the aria “Oh, this barren cell!” His duet “I lived each day in fear and yearning!” with Greenspan is another moving moment.
The villains Rocco and Pizarro (Robert S. Harrelson and Kenneth Derby) are a delightful addition. Harrelson has a fine voice and shines on his aria, “Did I raise you to believe this?” Derby clearly relishes his evil role on “So! So! What we fear have come!”
Another highlight is the prisoner’s chorus. Members Nicholas Carratura, Elliot Matheny, Alex Alburqueque, Sam Jones, DeCarlo Raspberry, and David Wolff bring the house down on both “This freedom was too good to last” and “What do I see? What do I feel?”
Leonora is a unique heroine in opera. For one, she lives through it, and not only that, she is a true hero, saving her husband, freeing the prisoners, and forging a happy ending. From the story, to the gorgeous score, to the talented musicians and singers onstage, this opera has everything you could want. The In Series is growing more ambitious and it’s paying huge dividends. Fidelio is one of the best I’ve seen from them.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Fidelio plays through June 26, 2016 at The In Series performing at Lang Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.