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    Bit to Do

    Soprano Kara Shay Thompson
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    The Kentucky Opera season opened Friday night with Fidelio, the only opera that Beethoven ever wrote. It's a unique opportunity to see a lesser known work by one of the great composers. On the one hand, it doesn't showcase any particularly famous arias, but on the other hand -- it is Beethoven -- the music is sublime. And I was struck by the fact that for his only foray into opera, Beethoven chose such a strongly heroic, female-centered story. 

    The loyal wife Leonore, under her assumed name of Fidelio, is the driver of the action, the moral core, the rescuer and not the rescued. Her husband Florestan has been imprisoned wrongly for trying to expose the corruption of the nobleman Don Pizarro, who holds him in the lowest dungeon of the prison. Rather than collapse into despair, Leonore disguises herself as a man and goes to work for the jailor Rocco (Dean Peterson) so that she can try to find him. There is a lighter sub-plot centered around Rocco's daughter Marzelline (Katy Lindhart) spurning her suitor Jaquino (Marco Cammarota) and falling in love with Fidelio instead.

    Katy Lindhart, Dean Peterson, Kara Shay Thompson

    Kary Lindhart, Dean Peterson, Kara Shay Thompson

    The role of Leonore calls for a truly courageous and engaging performance. There's no fluttering around in gorgeous costumes, reclining in romantic poses, or lovely shoe-gazing melancholy to hide behind here. Soprano Kara Shay Thompson is the main reason that this production succeeds so well. Her handling of the character delivers the compassionate heart without sacrificing the strength and bravery of Leonore's actions. And, of course, there's the singing. In the aria, "Komm, Hoffnung, Lass den Letzten Stern," Thompson was spectacular. The song describes the intensity of her horror at Pizarro's plan, but also the hope that sustains her as she tries to save her husband. Thompson's plush voice fills the room, rich, nuanced, fully in control of each phrase and delicate note. She was brilliant throughout.

    Jonathan BurtonAs good as Thompson is, I don't mean to ignore the other strong performances in the production -- Jonathan Burton as Florestan (at left) and Mark Walters as Pizarro both deserve mention. Burton's beautiful delivery of "In des Lebens Frühlingstagen" was very touching, and Walters gets the right mix of menace and bravado in Pizarro without letting him become a cardboard villain. I was moved particularly, too, by the Prisoners Chorus, as they enjoy a brief respite of sunshine in the garden. There is a lovely yearning quality to Beethoven's music throughout, which the Louisville Orchestra, under the direction of Conductor Joe Mechavich, ably conveyed. Its hard not to imagine that Beethoven's own personal disappointments didn't charge some of that yearning. Fidelio is a celebration of what true, married love should be -- perhaps something that Beethoven craved but certainly never experienced. It makes me wonder if Leonore isn't another idealized version of his Immortal Beloved.

    My only nitpicking with this production was a bit of business at the end, when Leonore and Florestan are finally reunited and the prisoners are freed. At the center of the set (provided by Virginia Opera) is the image of a wrecked piano in the rubble heap of the prison. During the triumphant finale, the prisoners unbury a virtual orchestra of instruments from the heap, as well as some other items representing the arts. It's nice symbolism of how the arts come back to life in a world where political tyranny is overthrown, but a rather heavy-handed way of delivering the message. The phonily mimed playing of the instruments by the prisoners didn't help either. The simplicity of a single violin being taken from the heap and cradled in the hands of one of the chorus members would have been much more effective. Director Lillian Groag could trust the audience a little more. Some people might also pooh-pooh the extra tug of heartstrings when Leonore and Florestan's young son runs on to the stage to greet his father, an addition not in the original, as far as I know. Well, I'll let that one slide, because the kid was cute and it was a sweet moment. My heart is not made of stone, after all! Also, that poor little guy was crashing pretty hard at the after-party, so he deserves some recognition for staying up way past his bedtime. You, however, won't have to stay up late for the final performance of Fidelio. which is tomorrow (Sunday) at 2 p.m. 

    Fidelio company, Kentucky Opera

    [All photos by Patrick Pfister]

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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