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20 Jan 2005

Karita Mattila — A Stunning Leonore

'Fidelio' returns Lyric, cast rise above flawed Beethoven opera By John von Rhein Tribune music critic January 19 2005, 1:00 AM CST "Fidelio" has been missing in action at Lyric Opera for nearly 24 years, much too long for...

'Fidelio' returns
Lyric, cast rise above flawed Beethoven opera

By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic

January 19 2005, 1:00 AM CST

"Fidelio" has been missing in action at Lyric Opera for nearly 24 years, much too long for a flawed masterpiece that once held sway on Wacker Drive whenever the great tenor Jon Vickers was available to sing the punishing role of Florestan.

Beethoven's only opera attempts to translate the high-flown democratic ideals he later developed in his Ninth Symphony into credible theatrical form. He didn't fully succeed despite his heroic labors. But dramatic awkwardness finally bows to the music itself: a great score driven by noble sentiment.

Much of that noble sentiment was recognizable in the radiant Finnish soprano Karita Mattila's thrilling portrayal of Leonore, the opera's courageous, larger-than-life heroine, at the Lyric's first performance of the season Tuesday night at the Civic Opera House.

But the Lyric also did itself proud with its casting of the other roles, all of them strongly filled.

Whatever inconsistencies of concept marred German stage director Jürgen Flimm's updated production from the Metropolitan Opera (taken over in his absence by his assistant, Gina Lapinski) were more than offset by the splendidly idiomatic conducting of Christoph von Dohnányi, returning in triumph to the theater that gave him his U.S. operatic debut 36 years ago.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Beethoven's 'Fidelio' seizes the heart

January 20, 2005

BY WYNNE DELACOMA Classical Music Critic

With all due respect to Beethoven -- creator of those landmark piano sonatas, gripping string quartets and iconic Ninth Symphony -- opera was not his forte. "Fidelio,'' his sole foray into the form, which opened Tuesday night at Lyric Opera of Chicago, has its clunky patches. In Act II, he is so eager to emphasize his points about the value of freedom and selfless love that he belabors them mercilessly.

But such weak spots were easy to overlook, given the powerful musical and theatrical forces at work in this production conducted by the estimable Christoph von Dohnanyi and starring Karita Mattila in the title role, Rene Pape as the jailer Rocco and Kim Begley as the imprisoned Florestan.

"Fidelio's'' story of a wife risking her life to free her unjustly imprisoned husband is universal, and designer Robert Israel has moved the action to the 20th century. The tale of the loving wife, Leonore, who disguises herself as a male prison guard, Fidelio, in an attempt to rescue her husband, Florestan, plays out in a grim concrete prison block. Its gray, forbidding shadow could be falling across God-forsaken stretches of west Texas, Bosnia or South Africa. Originally staged for the Metropolitan Opera by Jurgen Flimm in 2000 and staged for Lyric by Met assistant director Gina Lapinski, this is a world in which important politicians wear well-cut three-piece suits and prison guards sport short-sleeved khaki shirts and brandish billy clubs.

At the center of this barren arena, Mattila's Fidelio glowed like a judiciously hooded but red-hot flame. Previously this season, the Finnish soprano sang a moving Donna Anna in Lyric's "Don Giovanni," and her Leonore/Fidelio offered an even more nuanced blend of glorious singing and riveting acting. Mattila's voice is big and agile, with a bright center and velvety edge, capable of plumbing every facet of Leonore's treacherous emotional journey.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

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