Opera Opening: FIDELIO (Live & Virtual, San Francisco Opera)

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by Jim Allen on October 4, 2021

in Music,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

TO BREAK FREE, SHE HAD TO BREAK IN

San Francisco Opera’s return to live performances in the War Memorial Opera House continues October 14–30 with a bold, new production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. Caroline H. Hume Music Director Eun Sun Kim conducts this monumental work in which love and courage overcome tyranny. Director Matthew Ozawa updates its original eighteenth-century prison setting to a modern government detention center. Soprano Elza van den Heever stars as the opera’s heroine, Leonore, heading an all-star cast that includes tenor Russell Thomas, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley and basses James Creswell and Soloman Howard. Chorus Director Ian Robertson, who retires this year after 35 seasons, prepares the acclaimed San Francisco Opera Chorus for two exhilarating choral highlights of the operatic repertory: the famous Act I Prisoners’ Chorus and Fidelio’s exuberant finale. Tickets Available at sfopera.com and (415) 864-3330.

For the first time in its history, San Francisco Opera will livestream select performances of the new production. Several virtual and in-person ancillary events will be presented to foster deeper discovery. Beginning in October, virtual tickets will be available for $25 to livestream the October 14, 17 and 20 performances of Fidelio. For more information about San Francisco Opera livestreams, visit sfopera.com/online.

First presented in 1805 to a near-empty Viennese theater due to Napoleon’s recent occupation of the city, Fidelio underwent two major revisions (and four overtures) before the composer’s ode to freedom was realized as the enduring opera it is today. The story follows Leonore who, disguised as a man, Fidelio, infiltrates a prison to find her wrongfully imprisoned husband, Florestan. Facing a powerful adversary, she discovers the courage to stand against injustice. The contest in Fidelio between good and evil, darkness and light inspired Beethoven to create many charged musical episodes, including Leonore’s pivotal aria (“Abscheulicher!”), Florestan’s anguished solo (“Gott! Welch Dunkel hier”), a quartet of unequivocal grace and beauty (“Mir ist so wunderbar”) and rousing choral episodes that compare with the ecstatic energy of the composer’s Symphony No. 9.

American director Matthew Ozawa is firmly grounded in the world of opera as a stage director, musician and educator. Ozawa made his directorial debut with the Company last spring with the drive-in production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the Marin Center. That staging utilized a reconfigured version of Alexander V. Nichols’ set originally created for Fidelio, which was completed even after its 2020 opening was canceled by the pandemic. Originally planned to coincide with the global celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the composers birthday in 2020, Ozawa’s contemporary vision for Fidelio remains a celebration of shared humanity amid the trials of political incarceration.

Ozawa, whose father was born in a Japanese American internment camp in Wyoming during World War II, said: “At the heart of Fidelio is the heroism of a woman, a vision for the modern age, whose personal sacrifice to free her husband from wrongful incarceration results in the liberation of all those imprisoned. Beethoven’s revolutionary opera remains as relevant today as the numerous times it has served as a symbol of hope for generations of people afflicted by forms of oppression. Our new production embraces Beethoven’s emotionally profound music while viewing the opera through a modern lens. My hope is that experiencing this opera not only helps us shine a light on injustice but reminds us that we too have the power to be agents of change.”

Nichols’ setting for the production features a rotating cube of cells, interrogation rooms and offices with projected video surveillance feeds that show the activities of detainees in all areas of the holding facility. The creative team also features the work of costume designer Jessica Jahn and co-lighting designers JAX Messenger and Justin A. Partier.

set rendering photos courtesy scenic designer Alexander V. Nichols

FIDELIO CASTING AND CALENDAR
*San Francisco Opera Debut   ♪Role Debut   †Current Adler Fellow   ◼ Livestream
All performances take place at the War Memorial Opera House.

October ◼ 14 (7:30 pm), ◼ 17 (2 pm), ◼ 20 (7:30 pm), 22 (7:30 pm), 26 (7:30 pm), 30 (7:30 pm), 2021

Libretto originally prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner, from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly; later shortened by Stephan von Breuning and with further work done by Georg Friedrich Treitschke.

Approximate running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including one intermission
Sung in German with English supertitles

World Premiere:                                Vienna; November 20, 1805
First SFO performance:                    November 8, 1937
Most recent SFO performances      2005–06 Season

CAST:

Leonore                                               Elza van den Heever
Florestan                                             Russell Thomas
Don Pizarro                                         Greer Grimsley
Rocco                                                  James Creswell
Don Fernando                                    Soloman Howard
Marzelline                                           Anne-Marie MacIntosh *♪†
Jaquino                                               Christopher Oglesby ♪†
First Prisoner                                      Zhengyi Bai ♪†
Second Prisoner                                 Stefan Egerstrom ♪†

CREATIVE TEAM:

Conductor                                           Eun Sun Kim
Director                                               Matthew Ozawa
Set & Projection Designer                Alexander V. Nichols
Costume Designer                             Jessica Jahn
Co-Lighting Designer                         JAX Messenger
Co-Lighting Designer                         Justin A. Partier
Chorus Director                                  Ian Robertson
Fight Director                                     Dave Maier
San Francisco Opera Orchestra and San Francisco Opera Chorus

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