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 father’s "The Music Man," nor your mother’s "The Sound of Music," nor even your friend’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 – a name which means "faithful" – and heads out to rescue him. 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 night’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 Oct. 24, 2014
Michael Pink, the artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet, is an artist who has a great respect and affection for the literary and musical giants of past, just has he has a diligent commitment to encouraging and producing new works. But more than anything else, Pink is a storyteller, a man in love with a good yarn that tells a tale of romance, adventure and the forces of good and evil.
Published Oct. 23, 2014
Betrayal, revenge, a little more betrayal, a little more revenge, then even more revenge and a white lace handkerchief. That's about all you have to know about "My Dear Othello," the Theatre Gigante production opening tonight at the Kenilworth Studio 508 Theater.
Published Oct. 23, 2014
When you want to decide who to vote for in a particular election -- like the governor's race that's on our doorstep -- probably the absolute worst way to get information about the candidates is through television or radio ads. There is probably nothing more inaccurate of deceitful than these ads which are created by campaigns, parties and various support groups.
Published Oct. 21, 2014
The Green Bay Packers destroyed the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and were leading, 21-0, after one quarter. It led me to wonder: is it better, or more fun to watch, a rout or a nail-biter.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
It was just a rehearsal - no costumes, no set, no orchestra, no chorus, no plush seats, no lights on stage. As a matter of fact, there was no stage at all, just a piano. And the whole thing was in German. In spite of all of those things that weren't there, the thing that was there was a fascinating story and some amazing voices that told the story with such romance and strength that I followed the whole thing from my folding chair.
Published Oct. 19, 2014
From "Romeo and Juliet" to "Love Story," the tale of youngsters who fall in love, only to see death and a search for meaning in it all is so often told that it seems to have become almost a cliche of itself. But when that story gets mixed with history and put into the hands of a small coterie of very creative people, the story creates the kind of theatrical magic that comes only on occasion. That's what happened when "Amelia" opened Saturday night.
Published Oct. 18, 2014
Most of the time when a play opens, it's easy to figure out who the star is - usually an actor with a major part. Sometimes, the star can be something else, like a director or a composer or a costume designer. Rarely would anybody pick a lighting designer as the star, unless they see the wonderful production of "Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars" that opened the season for First Stage.
Published Oct. 17, 2014
Alchemist Theatre billed "Suicide Sleep"as its Halloween show, but nobody in the audience was trembling or closing their eyes to keep phantoms away. Instead, they were all on the edge of their seats - as was I - riveted with curiosity about just where this journey was going to take us.
Published Oct. 16, 2014
The second and last televised debate between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is tomorrow night from 7 to 8 p.m. and I've got a couple of suggestions for you. Walk your dog. Clip your toenails. Call your mother. Organize your kitchen cupboard. Order a pizza. Clean out your email folders. Sleep. Anything! Anything to avoid this farce being perpetrated on the people of Wisconsin.
Published Oct. 14, 2014
I support the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in its battle to keep the old Milwaukee Arena (now the UWM Panther Arena) from meeting the wrecking ball in order to build a new Downtown arena. One, I love the building's history. Two, there is a better spot for a new arena.