The production of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Theatro Municipal has barely survived the dengue epidemic. It seems that the whole season has to be rescheduled because foreign soloists preferred to stand clear of the risk of catching the disease. The results: a Cenerentola was cancelled and a Fidelio first said to feature Cheryl Studer and then Luana DeVol in the title role had to manage through emergency casting. Therefore, Brazilian soprano Janette Dornellas’s singing as Leonore can only be judged as an ad hoc performance. It is true that this singer has a history of hazardous casting, but saying she was overparted this evening is an euphemism. Although she could more or less wriggle her voice to a fair Ersatz for dramatic soprano´s acuti, that could be made only at the expense of the quality of the rest of her voice, which sounded bleached out, unflowing and occasionally inaudible in the middle and lower register. She is a fine musician and a cunning singer and would now and then make something out of very little - for example, she produced the necessary chiaroscuro of tenderness and resolve in Abscheulicher often unobserved by many a properly cast soprano in this role – but in the end one would only wish for healthy, honest singing and decent German pronunciation. As Marzelline, Carol McDavitt, an American singer resident in Brazil, also struggled through a part again helplessly heavy for what is basically a microscopic-sized oratorio soprano. In her favour, one can mention knowledge of style and a firm high c in her trio with Leonore and Rocco. In the role of Florestan, John Pierce displayed a large and basically pleasant Heldentenor that resents however Beethoven’s tricky high-lying moments. Truth be said, his big aria seemed to find him unprepared: he chopped mercilessly his phrasing in the recitative, produced clipped high notes throughout and held back the tempo in the stretta, to the noticeable dissatisfaction of the conductor. Brazilian baritone Sebastião Teixeira’s is the kind of voice built to produce the right effect in the top notes – and Pizarro rather requires a Heldenbaritone’s richness in the middle register. As a consequence, strained tone, dim low notes and problematic pitch abounded. His German too needs serious practice. An unidiomatic, woolly and flat-singing Don Fernando did not help the proceedings either.
The exceptions to the dismal casting situation were the rich-toned Rocco of Hernán Iturralde (whose beautiful pronunciation of German language also deserves praise), a most satisfying performance, and the surprisingly agreeable tenor of Atalla Ayan as Jaquino. His confident singing was only marred (once again) by sketchy German. It would be a pity if he could not be cast in roles fit to his voice because of lack of familiarity with a language that should be central to any singer who intends to have a serious career these days.
I would be lying, though, if I did not say that this performance’s redeeming feature is the exemplary conducting of Maestro Roberto Minczuk. Of course, the Theatro Municipal’s orchestra is the opposite of a dream-team for this music, but this most industrious conductor managed to extract from those musicians the best they could possibly offer. It is true that the sound is not terriby beautiful and also on the dry side, but the strings were unusually accurate even in the fastest passagework, the balance between sections was crystalline and the sense that the orchestra was the main “story-teller” in this score was immediate throughout. His fast tempi, theatrical awareness, structural clarity proves that this man can truly produce miracles. Given the right soloists and a world-class orchestra, he would definitely deliver a reference Fidelio.
It is a pity that Minczuk’s musical genius could not find a counterpart in the stage direction. Alberto Renault’s self-indulgent production involves pretentious geometrical settings, nonsensical acting, pointless gestures from all involved, silly pseudo-brilliant ideas (the “ballet” during Er sterbe! made the audience laugh), downright carelessness (the minimalist sceneries were particularly poorly built) and a despicable final scene that I could only describe as “Teletubbies aesthetics”.