Almost any day’s headlines relate to “Fidelio”: the solitary prisoner sealed away with his knowledge of the Truth, the masses of prisoners denied access to sunlight by the caprice of a single corrupt Governor, the well-meaning guards who don’t even know who’s in their lockup. To the L.A. Opera’s credit, the production of Beethoven’s endearing drama that kicked off the company’s 21st season in splendid form this past weekend drew no laborious parallels between then and now beyond the brutally obvious. The emphasis instead was on a vigorous revival of Beethoven’s uneven, sometimes silly, occasionally stirring semi-masterpiece, and in this the company succeeded very well indeed.
Especially successful was the notion of handing off the leading roles to young-looking and young-sounding performers instead of the large Wagnerians who tend to pass themselves off as boyish sopranos and starving tenors in traditional productions. The first notes of tortured outcry from clear-voiced, youthful tenor Klaus Florian Vogt from the depths of his prison cell opened a whole new era of “Fidelio” possibilities. Much the same went for the Leonore of Anja Kampe, powerful of voice but utterly convincing as a young wife capable of the disguise that would eventually win back her martyred husband.
Florence-born Pierluigi Pier’Alli fills the Chandler Pavilion stage with dark and murky symbolic shapes, achieving some level of climactic clutter around the solemn prison cell of the captive Florestan, a veritable explosion of mechanical shapes, wheels and staircases. His staging of the climactic moment, a couple of minutes later, as the now-unmasked Fidelio/Leonore holds the villainous Pizarro at bay and demands the redemption of her captive husband, is one of those times when you simply have to stand and yell: pure melodrama but pure magic.
So was the time a few minutes later, when music director James Conlon had escorted his exceptionally able pit orchestra through the “Leonore Overture No. 3,” which doesn’t actually belong in “Fidelio” but usually gets interpolated to cover the scene change from prison to sunshine. Conlon, in case you haven’t noticed, is the new hero in town. At the end, after the singers have taken their bows (mostly deserved) he led his whole orchestra onstage to take their bows as well. That’s what you call heart.