Fidelio at Oshawa OperaInterview
Oshawa Opera continues its season with Fidelio on November 15th. The in-concert performance features mezzo-soprano Brigitte Bogar as Leonora and tenor Jason Lamont as her husband, Florestan. Pianist Kate Carver plays Beethoven’s score, and Oshawa Opera Artistic Director Kristine Dandavino narrates.
I spoke with Kristine and Brigitte about Beethoven’s only opera, about choosing happy endings and taking on not-your-average pants role. Fidelio plays at Kingsview United Church, 505 Adelaide Avenue East, Oshawa, at 3pm on November 15th. Admission is $25 (free for kids!); for details, follow the box office links below.
1. Why did you choose Fidelio?
Kristine Dandavino: One of my mandates at Oshawa Opera, is to ensure that we bring well known operas to Oshawa and to continue the education/outreach process by bringing traditional repertoire that might not be that known to ensure that we educate our audience to all genres and languages. Beethoven is one of my favourite composer and everyone knows his Ninth Symphony. As much as Beethoven was not found of opera singers and was known to have a “gruff” personality, in Fidelio we find a tender Beethoven, where love conquers everything and the music drives the text.
I won’t lie, producing a concert version of Fidelio, in Oshawa, sung in German, has its challenges. However, we all know I love challenges! In lieu of dialogue, I shall narrate and guide the audience through the opera and ensuring that they know who is who and how they relate to each other. Fidelio is all about human relationships. What can I say…I love, love…and love stories that end well… It almost sounds like a Disney movie, doesn’t it?
2. This isn’t your average “pants role”! Can you tell us what you like about Leonora, and what you find difficult about the role?
Brigitte Bogar: I love the duality and the complexity that it creates. In an average pants role you are a woman portraying a young man and your job is to get the audience to accept that. With Leonora however you are a woman - the audience needs to see you as a woman but at the same time you are pretending to be a man on stage, in order to create a relationship with your husband’s jailer through romancing his daughter. In other words the audience needs to see you as a woman getting away with pretending to be a man.
I love Leonora’s strength and courage, and the determination that keeps her going. The hardest part is that unlike a lot of other female characters she is not driven by the cliche - a need to “get her man” nor is she focused on or longing for an impossible love - she is simply being a faithful wife fighting for her husband’s freedom. So therefore she is possibly the most theatrically demanding character to portray on stage.
3. Did Beethoven write a difficult opera for singers?
Kristine: Difficult, that loaded word… Brain surgery is difficult. Singing should be natural and effortless, not all singers can handle the roles in this opera. But, the same can be said of any operatic role. It is all relative. If you ask a coloratura soprano to sing Leonore, she might struggle but, the same can be said if you ask a dramatic soprano to sing Susanna. All voices are unique. I often tell my students “There is a role for every voice type. Find what works for you.” It all boils down to technique and vocal maturity.
Brigitte: I wouldn’t say that it is more difficult to sing than any other opera. It is certainly different to singing Mozart or Bellini, but not that different from Wagner or Strauss. The main difficulty is the sheer length of the second act which is almost relentless, but it is also used by Beethoven to show the way the characters are going through such a hard time. But I do find this far easier to sing than his 9th Symphony.
4. What do you think this opera says about men and women at the time this was written (and today)?
Kristine: Leonore’s love for Florestan is one of a wife that will stop at nothing to find the man she loves. My favourite moment, is when Leonore finally sees Florestan in Act 2, and gives him bread and tells him to not give up… I can’t imagine the pain and anguish that she is going through. One would think, in 2015, operas about political prisoners would be “passé”. Yet, we only need to turn on the news to see how much the world has not changed since Beethoven’s time. Perhaps, Beethoven’s Fidelio is what the world needs in order to heal.
5. Leonora is a progressive character for the time - do you think there’s a bit of feminism in this piece?
Brigitte: Absolutely! She is after all the person who saves the day. She is on one level fighting for the freedom of her husband and on another level fighting a whole system of unfairness and corruption. And she is brave, loyal, smart and strong - in other words - she is a Wonder Woman.
Fidelio plays at Kingsview United Church, 505 Adelaide Avenue East, Oshawa, at 3pm on November 15th. Admission is $25 (free for kids!); for details and to purchase tickets, follow the box office links below.