erforming Beethoven's only opera Fidelio is a significant undertaking. I mentioned to Maestro Meena backstage that it is more symphonic than operatic, and he said "that's a good way to put it." It is challenging in many ways, given the difficult vocal writing, dense instrumental parts, some issues with theatricality, and a certain disconnection between the orchestra and the voices. Beethoven struggled with the operatic medium, and felt that the experience of composing an opera was so painful that he abandoned any attempts at making a second one. Still, its music is sublime, and all things considered it does qualify as a masterpiece. 

This is to say that making it all come together is not easy. The piece is somber and solemn and asks for stark staging, given that except for the prisoner's chorus and the final apotheosis, most scenes are relatively intimate with rarely more than two singers on stage. So, the interpretations need to be strong, and the orchestra needs to find the right measure between loud symphonic dimension and singer support.

Opera Carolina was largely successful in bringing to our state this rarely produced piece. The company did very well musically, and fairly well theatrically. 

Canadian director Tom Diamond updated the story to the time of the fall of the Berlin wall. Some characters had their names changed to match political figures in Berlin. In two moments the recorded voices of JFK and Ronald Reagan were played, and projections showed images of Berlin both during the harsh times of the Cold War, and during the fall of the Wall. The visual effects did liven up the production, countering some of the bleakness, and the minimalist scenery was effective and delivered a fair amount of impact. I don't mind the update but am less sure of the decision to change the names of characters and to make several references to Berlin both in the spoken dialogue and with audio recordings. For those who love this opera, it was a bit distracting. I'm not sure if the singers completely embraced the concept, given that acting was somewhat underwhelming across the board. Costumes were very correct and consistent with the time period chosen. 

Regarding the theatrical aspects of this show, I grant to the various elements the following scores:

Stage direction B
Lighting and Projections A-
Acting B overall, but Kyle Pfortmiller and Andrew Funk did reach A territory
Costumes B+
Blocking and dynamic use of stage space B+
Scenery B+

Overall the physical production and the theatrical aspects averaged a B+.

Musically speaking, the company fared a lot better. Maestro Meena was excellent as usual, employing colorful nuances, and keeping perfect pace. The Charlotte Symphony played beautifully, with good balance, dynamics, and transitions. There was one small hiccup at the beginning of the final scene when the brass section jumped in a little early, but that was about it. At all other moments the orchestra was superb, and arguably the high point of the show. The chorus did very well too.

We were treated to great singing, with one exception – Ms. Raquel Suarez Groen lacked volume to the point that it was hard to hear her above the orchestra (maybe she was indisposed). Brian Arreola was good as Jaquino. Andrew Funk was phenomenal as Rocco, with good diction and excellent control. Kyle Pfortmiller's character doesn't get much good music but he still worked well with the material he was given (and produced the best acting of the evening). Andrew Richards has very good musicality and was a touching Florestan. Walter Momper performed perfectly his short comprimario role. Maria Katzarava was a very compelling Leonore. She filled the theater with a powerful voice and had beautiful timbre and agility – with a touch of control problems in the upper register, and a bit of vocal fatigue in the final scene.

Here are the scores for the musical aspects:

Conducting A++
Orchestra A++
Chorus A+
Jaquino B+
Marzelline B-
Rocco A++
Leonore A-
Pizarro A+
Florestan A++
Fernando A

Overall musical aspects, A+

This is a very recommended show: a rare opportunity for opera lovers in the Carolinas to witness upfront this beautiful opera, and we are thankful to the company for including in the season works that are not the usual ABC workhorses (the Aida/Bohème/Carmen). The fact that the theatrical aspects lagged a bit behind the musical elements is unsurprising: like I said, Fidelio is not easy to stage. The production while not as gorgeous as some of the recent Opera Carolina shows (such as the visually stunning Madama Butterfly and the atmospheric The Pearl Fishers) was still interesting. Musically speaking, however, this show is much more than merely interesting: it is a performance that can't be missed, since these tricky instrumental and vocal scores were very well played and sung by this talented conductor, this fine orchestra, this nice chorus, and this excellent cast. I'd say that achieving A+ musically with Fidelio is a towering accomplishment. So dear readers at driving distance, if you want to enjoy Beethoven's fabulous music done very competently, make sure that you get the last few available tickets.

Read the full review here at Opera Lively