It may well be helpful to understand what "Fidelio," the opera that opened Friday night at Skylight, is not before we get to what it is.
It is not your fatherâ€™s "The Music Man," nor your motherâ€™s "The Sound of Music," nor even your friendâ€™s sparkling "Avenue Q."
The reign of Viswa Subbaraman as the new artistic director at Skylight took wing Friday night as a giant and powerful eagle soaring majestically into the sky and inviting all of us to come along for the ride of a lifetime.
Subbaraman has arrived in a coach gilded with an incredibly high level of risk in the hope of an equally high level of reward. If "Fidelio" is going to set the pace, the rewards that await are huge.
"Fidelio," the only opera ever written by Ludwig van Beethoven, is over 200 years old. It tells the story of Leonore, whose husband, Florestan, has been imprisoned for two years because of his political views.
Leonore disguises herself as a man named Fidelio â€“ a name which means "faithful" â€“ and heads out to rescue him.Â Mixed identities, good guys and bad guys, and hope and struggle ensue on the way to a happy ending for all.
The men in this play are all fine singers but it is two women, Cassandra Black as Leonore/Fidelio and the beautiful and delicate Erica Schuller, who stand tallest.
Black is an absolute marvel given that we are in on the joke from the very beginning. Her longing to find her husband all the while playing an uncomfortable role are palpable emotions made even deeper because of her powerful voice.
Schuller, in the role of the damsel who falls for Fidelio, has a winsome seductiveness about her and a playful side given freedom to let her voice soar.
No review of this production would be complete without mention of the set design by noted artist Raghava KK. He has combined his creativity with technology and an interactive palette and his sets are breathtaking. They are in a show by themselves but never take anything away from the action on stage.
I will confess to having misgivings headed in to this production. It has been billed as Beethoven meets Bollywood, the center of cinema in Mumbai, India.
I am not a huge Bollywood fan, but this show fit the stylized dance and movement right into the operatic frame so there was no frenetic search for escape.
If I had to find some fault with the opera it is a minor one, at best. Translating it into English is often a difficult decision to make. And for my money singing an opera in its original language allows for the full breadth of passion and opera to be fully explored. While all the notes are there in English versions, some of the emotion seems to wane. And opera without passion and emotion is a recipe for a good nightâ€™s sleep.
Not tonight. This is a challenging show, for the singers and for the audience. Beethoven was known to write music that was a challenge for singers but was so well worth it when you got to the end.
Perhaps we can expect the same from Subbaraman. Give us productions that challenge us and make us feel both our hearts and minds. And at the end we will know that we have truly seen something well worth it.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Sept. 28, 2016
Something like the presidential debates is, in essence, theater. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump need to have a better sense of what to do onstage. Over the years directors have helped me, and I want to pass some of that on to the two candidates.
Published Sept. 27, 2016
They don't get much credit or recognition, but the artists who operate behind the scenes are critical to the success of any play. The artists who helped create "Man of La Mancha" at The Rep are all at the very top of their game.
Published Sept. 25, 2016
Don Quixote, a man with a twisted sword and a broken lance, is living proof of the nobility of love, duty, honor and passion. And that's all on magnificent display in "Man of La Mancha," which opened to spectacular applause at the Rep Saturday night.
Published Sept. 24, 2016
"A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur" is one of the less frequently produced Tennessee Williams plays, but the character portraits are familiar to anyone who knows Williams. And thanks to a perfect production from the Chamber Theatre, it feels valuable and vital.
Published Sept. 23, 2016
Off the Wall Theatre opened Dale Gutzman's version of "A Passage to India" Thursday night, and though Gutzman both wrote and directed this production, the whole thing fails to reach the high level of work Off the Wall normally delivers.
Published Sept. 20, 2016
Having struck artistic and critical gold once before, the Florentine Opera is preparing another world premiere with the same team that won two Grammys - except this time they are trading Sinclair Lewis for Theodore Dreiser.
Published Sept. 13, 2016
First Stage is taking another step with Fineghan Kruckemeyer and developing a play around themes suggested by Milwaukee kids. First Stage has co-commissioned Kruckemeyer to craft a new play inspired by conversations with area young people and their parents.
Published Sept. 12, 2016
Few performers ever live up to their legend, but Billie Holiday, the singer and sinner who died tragically over 50 years ago, was one who absolutely did. All of it is on parade at "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," at the Stackner Cabaret.
Published Sept. 9, 2016
Eric Von, a longtime leader in black community talk radio, died Thursday at the age of 58. Cause of death was an apparent heart attack. Von had survived a heart attack just one month earlier. He was a radio host at WNOV when he died.
Published Sept. 8, 2016
The recent uprisings in Sherman Park have once again brought to attention the conflict between the black community and the Milwaukee Police Department. Mike Crivello is the president of the Milwaukee Police Association and he's been a member of the force since he was hired in 1991.