U.S. protests have increased this year, making Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio very relevant in 2017 since it begins with a protest against injustice. Ultimately, it’s a story of love, freedom, hope, and justice. This opera goes beyond amusement. It makes a statement. Fidelio was part of a trend in the early 1800s to pen operas about women dressing as men to free their significant others from harm. The Princeton Festival offers a contemporary production directed by Steve LaCosse playing at McCarter Theatre. It also ties in nicely with the festival’s musical, Man of La Macha (review here) for the reason that both take place in a Spanish prison, which is quite clever of Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk.
It begins with Spanish nobleman Florestan (Noah Baetge) and a little under two dozen protesters attending a rally to fight low wages and workers’ rights. They are wrongfully incarcerated by Don Pizarro (Joseph Barran), the governor of a prison. The jailer’s assistant, Jaquino (Michael Kuhn) asks Marzelline (Danielle Talamantes), the daughter of the prison warden Rocco (Gustave Andreassen), to marry him. However, she is infatuated with a young man named Fidelio (Marcy Stonikas) who is actually a woman named Leonore. Leonore is looking for her husband, Florestan, whom she believes is imprisoned there. The prison governor, Pizarro arrives and learns that Don Fernando, a state minister, will be coming to inspect the prison the next day seeking victims of unjust imprisonment. Pizzaro orders Rocco to starve a man lying near death in the deepest cell below and dig a grave for him. Leonore overhears this and suspects it’s her husband. She convinces Rocco to take her on his rounds to see the secret cells and he agrees. Read the full synopsis here.
The soloists are stunning performers. Sopranos Marcy Stonikas and Danielle Talamantes are both captivating. Their rich, full voices commanded attention every time they sang. Noah Baetge is an amazing tenor with a satisfying richness to his voice and he has a wonderful range. The remaining singers are also superb and Michael Kuhn is endearing as Jaquino.
Richard Tang Yuk conducts The Princeton Festival Orchestra with passion. The overture and interlude highlight the rich and full-bodied sounds of the orchestra. The recitatives are mostly on point when it comes to accents. It’s easier to hear how well their German is pronounced when spoken and I was quite impressed. The Princeton Festival Opera Chorus is an amazing assemblage of talent, adding much strength to the production.
Fidelio might not be as well-known as the most popular operas, but this particular production will climb up your list of favorites. It’s significant, modern, relatable, and entertaining. This is a powerful production, not to be missed! It’s no wonder The Princeton Festival continues to be voted Favorite Opera in New Jersey. It offers a full opera experience, including an orchestra in the pit, supertitles, wonderful set design, detailed costumes, dramatic lighting, voices that both touch your soul and give you goosebumps, the great acoustics at McCarter and no need for opera glasses.
Fidelio has one more performance on Sunday, June 25 at 3 PM on the Matthews stage at McCarter Theatre. The performance has one intermission and will end at approximately at 5:40 PM. Tickets range from $35 – $140 and can be purchased online at McCarter Theatre’s website, at the McCarter Box Office at 91 University Place in Princeton or by calling (609) 258-2787.