Clay Hilley in Madison Opera's Fidelio
Madison Opera rousingly opened its 2014-15 season at Overture Hall on Friday night with a great work not often encountered: Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio. The work typifies the "rescue opera," a style that flourished in the years after the upheavals of the French Revolution, exploiting stories of escapes from danger and oppression. Fidelio adds the theme of the selflessly devoted wife whose loyalty saves the day.
Thanks to his superlative music, Beethoven's rescue opera alone has achieved longevity. To be sure, his characters are cardboard ones, with no past, present or future, or any depth beyond their stereotypical functions. But the music carries the action to moving and uplifting heights.
Those heights were scaled admirably by this Madison Opera production. The standout cast member was surely Alexandra LoBianco, as the heroine Leonore, who disguises herself as the boy Fidelio in order to find her imprisoned husband. Her beautiful, nuanced voice has powerhouse carrying capacity.
Leaner, but with clarion strength, tenor Clay Hilley was the fortunately rescued prisoner. As Marzelline, the girl who mistakenly falls in love with "Fidelio," Alisa Jordheim displayed a voice of considerable appeal -- a Mozart Susanna in the making, perhaps -- if not quite the bubblehead the role suggests. As her father, the jailer Rocco, the tall Matt Boehler cut an appealing figure, though his bass range lacked depth and he missed the ambiguities in the one character of some complexity. Kelly Markgraf made so menacing a villain as Don Pizarro that he was even booed a bit in the curtain calls. All in all, the soloists made a satisfying vocal team.
Tara Faircloth directed thoroughly intelligent, effective staging, with a fine set on loan from the Michigan Opera Theatre. Special praise is due to the chorus, who made the prisoners' scene quite thrilling. Conductor John DeMain led strong and idiomatic orchestral backing.
The production is repeated at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23.