Nice Opera has selected Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, for its first production of 2023.
With an underlying theme of love, fidelity, sacrifice and the liberation from oppression, Fidelio stars Angélique Boudeville as Leonore, Gregory Kunde as her husband Florestan, Thomas Ghazeli as Don Pizarro, Birger Radde as Don Fernando, and Albert Dohmen as Rocco. The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus are led by Slovenian conductor Marko Letonja, General Music Director of the Bremen Philharmonic and Conductor Laureate at theTasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
Beethoven was commissioned to write his only opera in 1804 by the Theater an der Wien. The story of Fidelio was based on a true incident of a woman disguised as a man who liberated her husband from a Jacobin prison. A judge named Jean-Nicolas Bouilly witnessed this event, and developed it into a story, entitled Leonoré, which was transferred to Spain. The theatre director and writer Joseph Sonnenleithner, translated the French libretto into German and Beethoven set about writing the score for the opera which was called Leonore. The premiere in Vienna on November 20th, 1805, was disrupted by the arrival in Vienna of Napoleon’s troops, and was an abject failure. The libretto was subject to a number of edits by Stephan von Breuning, and after the failure of the second version in 1806, Beethoven consigned the project to a drawer for eight years. The final version was subject to a fundamental revision, and with a libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, Fidelio premiered at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna on May 23rd, 1814.
Beethoven wrote four different overtures for the opera first known as Leonore. The first – with which he wasn’t satisfied – was never played during his lifetime, and was followed by a new overture for each of the three staged versions. The last overture written, in E major, is the one that has prevailed. The world premiere of Fidelio took place on 23rd May, 1814 at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna.
The plot of Fidelio revolves around the unjust jailing of Spanish aristocrat, Florestan, by a political enemy, Don Pizzaro, the cruel governor of the State prison who would face a corruption scandal if the identity of his secret prisoner were to be revealed. It tells how Florestan’s wife Leonore devises a plan to rescue him from the death penalty. Taking the name Fidelio, she disguises herself as a man, and goes to work as a deputy gaoler at the prison where Florestan is being held. Don Pizzaro – concerned about a proposed inspection of the jail by the king’s minister, Don Fernando – orders the head jailer, Rocco, to kill Florestan, which Rocco refuses to do. When Don Pizzaro goes down to Florestan’s cell to kill him, Leonora reveals her true identity, threatens the tyrant, and Florestan’s life is saved by the arrival of Don Fernando.
French soprano Angélique Boudeville was nominated Singer of the Year at the Paris Opera in 2019. Roles in which she has appeared include Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen – which she will sing again at the Schaffhausen Festival – Leila in Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Théâtre de Bienne in Switzerland, and Micaela again at the Tonhalle in Zurich. Later this season she will sing the title role in Puccini’s Tosca at the Grand Théâtre de Tours, and that of Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore at Opéra de Saint-Etienne and Opéra de Marseille.
American tenor Gregory Kunde – who takes the role of Florestan – is mainly associated with the French and Italian repertoires. He recently appeared in Verdi’s La Forze del Destino at Teatro Regio de Parma, in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier at Teatro Communale de Bologna, in Tosca with Los Angeles Opera and at Teatro Real in Madrid in recital with Carlos Alvarez in Voices of Teatro Real.
Don Pizarro is sung by Italian baritone Thomas Ghazeli who was a member of the cast of Teatro Lirico de Cagliari which recorded Respighi’s La Campana Sommersa in 2016. Mr Ghazeli also appeared in Strauss’s opera Salome broadcast on BBC 3 with the BBC Philharmonic in 2008. More recently, he sang the role of Dr Pangloss in a recording of Bernstein’s Candide in which David Stahl led the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with the Ernst Senff Choir.
German baritone Birger Radde takes the role of Don Fernando. Nominated as Singer of the Year in 2020 by magazine Opernwelt for his performance in the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Mr Radde made his debut as Don Fernando at Teatro Maggio Musicale in Florence during the 2021-22 season. He has also recently sung the title role in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Monte-Carlo Opera, and that of Wolfram von Eschenbach in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Heidenheim Opera Festival. Future engagements include a reprise of von Eschenbach at Teatro Modena and Teatro Reggio-Emilia, and his debut as Mandryka in Strauss’s Arabella at Staatstheater Wiesbaden.
Baritone Albert Dohmen has established himself as one of the leading Wotan singers of his generation, having sung this role in the complete Ring cycles in Trieste, Geneva, Catania, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Vienna State Opera, at Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam and at the Metropolitan Opera, amongst others. Recent highlights also include his debut as Hans Sachs in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Geneva and Barcelona, as Gurnemanz in Wagner’s Parsifal in Geneva, as the Commendatore in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Vienna State Opera and Daland in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in Paris.
Director of this new co-production with the Opéra-Comique, the MxM collective and the Dijon Opera, is Cyril Teste, reprised by Céline Gaudier. Decor is by Valérie Grall, costumes are by Marie La Rocca, dramaturgist is Leila Adham, lighting is by Julien Boizard, video design is by Nicolas Dorémus and Mehdi Toutain-Lopez, camera operator is Nicolas Doremus and sound design is by Thibault Lamy.
Fidelio runs at Nice Opera from 20th to 26th January. More information and details of reservations can be found on the Nice Opera website.
Lead image courtesy Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur