The pre-publicity for this opera rigthly concentrated on the astonishing set designed by Rebecca Ringst and it really was a star. You can get some idea from any of the pictures around. What is more difficult to imagine is the opening to the second act where this massive structure, which I’d estimate as three or four storeys high, very slowly tilts back with no apparent support, forming a labyrinth, echoing the quotes from Jorge Luis Borges that are used in the production. During the final chorus it rises again, only to fall slowly at the end. The second star was Emma Bell as Leonore/Fidelio, singing with immense skill and passion. An amazing and thoroughly recommended production.
Carlos Acosta has tweaked the classic Petipa choreography and seeing it so soon after Mikhailovsky Ballet’s performance of the original gave me a good chance to spot the improvements he has made. A new prologue helps the story make a little more sense but the main change has been to loosen up the choreography, allowing a smoother more naturalistic feel. Minkus’s music has also been arranged and re-orchestrated by Martin Yates. It was a great improvement on the earlier performance, although I am not sure whether that was down to the new arrangement or the superb playing of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Vasko Vassilev. Either way, there was more humour in the music where appropriate and more passion when required. I saw the matinee performance so didn’t see the star casting led by Acosta himself. Still, Alexander Campbell and Roberta Marquez were excellent as the leads, although the latter was almost outclassed by Laura Morera’s superb performance as the street dancer.
The draw for me was the Bartók’s quartet but the lunchtime concert started with Haydn’s very pleasant String Quartet in C Op. 33 No. 3 “The Bird,” presumably chosen for its Hungarian feel. This was followed by György Kurtág’s Hommage à Mihály András (12 microludes) Op. 13 with which I was not familiar. As the title suggests, it is made up of 12 very short movements, each between 16 seconds and two minutes long. As a result, I could barely get into one movement before it was gone – I’d have to listen again to judge it. The climax of the concert was Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4, one of the greatest 20th Century works, brilliantly played and absolutely wonderful. After much well deserved applause from those who were not rushing back to work, they gave an encore of a delightful polonaise from a Mozart quartet.
You can hear the concert (apart from the encore) from BBC Radio 3 on the BBC iPlayer. Sadly, the picture of the quartet was not taken at the beautiful Wigmore Hall, though.