Review: Opera North’s Fidelio – Lowry Theatre (yes the theatre!)

It’s been so long.

So long since I’ve got lost trying to find which door I need to enter to take my seat even though I’ve been a hundred times before.

So long since I’ve gone up and down rows trying to find my seat number even though I’ve been a hundred times before.

So long since I’ve taken my seat, taken about 3 hours to work out where to put my coat, bag, drink, programme without invading somebody else’s personal space (my spatial awareness leaves a lot to be desired)….

Two outta three ain’t bad. The latter wasn’t an issue as, yes, social distancing and Covid guidelines were firmly (and reassuringly) in place for this night’s performance and indeed those until, I guess, 19 July (at the time of writing).

So culturally starved (not to be massively dramatic, if you’ll excuse the loose pun) I’ll take all the rules sent my way.

For those yet to take a tentative step back into theatres, I can assure that I felt The Lowry had taken lots of responsible steps to safeguard and welcome back their visitors.

Having been given a time window to head over, there was outside queuing, temperature checks, an outdoor food and drink stand, the usual responsible security checks, mask wearing throughout and huge swathes of the auditorium seating out of bounds.

None of it we ideally want, all of it appreciated and to be grabbed at with both hands if it means a return to evenings of entertainment, such as Opera North’s Fidelio on Tuesday evening (see, I got to it eventually).

What joy. It wasn’t my first rodeo with the company, as regular readers of my blog will know.

However it was my first opera composed by Beethoven. Indeed this was his one and only and more’s the pity. Those demonstrating a level of naivety (me) by expecting dramatic, rousing and indeed quite dark, sweeping melodies that I’d decided were synonymous with the composer, would be surprised.

Fidelio tells the story Leonore, a noblewoman disguised as a boy in search of her husband, Florestan, who has been unjustly imprisoned by tyrannical political opponent Don Pizarro. Fidelio secures a job as a prison guard and sets in motion a chain of events in which she must risk everything to save her husband’s life…

I assume (but could be wrong) that due to the C word, the production was a concert performance, stripped back in terms of the set, costuming and choreography

The cast were dressed in musician black, sat on chairs at the front of the stage (during moments of not singing) and even arrived on stage wearing black masks.

Therefore there was nowhere to hide and absolutely no need to either. Hand in hand with the, as always, delightful music from the orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel, our attention was captured and held throughout by beautiful voices, heartfelt melodies and emotive body language.

With admittedly a little help from English subtitles (the opera is sung in German), the narrative was clear, the story-telling sincere and as we reached the crescendo of the performance, I even felt a little sad, as real life clearly interrupted art. Such was the passion of the performance throughout, seeing the leading couple Fidelio/Leonore and Florestan clearly meant to end in an embrace but Rachel Nicholls and Toby Spence unable to even shake hands due to restrictions, it was another reminder of the strange world we currently inhabit.

I have to say, from the applause sounding out at the end, you would have thought it was a full house.

And so Tuesday night felt a little better, I was in my happy place and thank you to both Opera North and The Lowry for that.

For full cast details and future dates, head to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/fidelio-2021/#cast-creative

For upcoming productions at The Lowry, visit https://thelowry.com/whats-on/

Pic credits:

1-4,13 – authors own

5-12 – Richard H Smith

Matthew Stiff as Don Fernando/Narrator, Robert Hayward as Don Pizarro, Brindley Sherratt as Rocco, Rachel Nicholls as Leonore, Toby Spence as Florestan), Fflur Wyn as Marzelline and Oliver Johnston as Jaquino in Opera North’s Autumn 2020 production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.
Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth, Staging: Matthew Eberhardt, Livestream Director: Peter Maniura

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