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 Dec. 7, 2013
We all know what a "Scrooge" is: a bitter, hateful penny-pincher with not an ounce of fun, joy or charity in his cold, cold heart. Well, watch your opinion change if you are lucky enough to see the Milwaukee Rep's 38th consecutive production of that classic holiday tale, "A Christmas Carol," at the glorious Pabst Theater.
Published Dec. 5, 2013
'Tis the season to be jolly. But what does it mean for something ike a city or a county? What makes the Milwaukee family jolly or happy? As the old year leaves at the end of holiday season Dave Begel is trying to get a handle on what we need to be a happy place.
Published Dec. 3, 2013
Has football changed so much that when your starting quarterback goes down you might as well toss your chips on the felt and walk away from the table?
Published Nov. 30, 2013
Christmas stories need a moment to galvanize an audience and make the story a memorable one, maybe bring some tears and possibly make people think a little differently about the holiday. Something like George Bailey getting the money. Or when Santa proves to be the real thing in "Miracle on 34th Street." On that score - and on every other - "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" hits the mark.
Published Nov. 28, 2013
Thanksgiving is here, so here's some of what Dave Begel is thankful for, not just today, but most of the time.
Published Nov. 27, 2013
During Ryan Braun's news conference, he talked about how he wasn't going to get into specifics about what had happened and that he was only focused on moving forward. The problem with that answer to questions from reporters is that it makes Braun continue to look like he's a liar.
Published Nov. 26, 2013
I know this is the season when we are supposed to be thankful for stuff. And I want to play, too. I'm thankful this Green Bay Packers season is almost over and we can all get on with fixing things for next year.
Published Nov. 24, 2013
There are a lot of different things you can expect when you go to the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, but you would never expect this. A ballet. Right on the stage of the Quadracci Powerhouse. And with "Noises Off," a farce written by Michael Frayn and directed by KJ Sanchez, the Rep has staged a show that has everything that a great ballet has, except the music.
Published Nov. 24, 2013
A frequent pitfall for playwrights that write comedies is a temptation to wind things up at the end with some meaningful reform for the comics that turns them into serious human beings. Most often those attempts end up being sappy and sending an audience home with decidedly mixed feelings wondering whether they were supposed to be laughing all that time. Nothing like that plagues "Things Being What They Are."
Published Nov. 23, 2013
Go ahead and pick any adjective you want. Not one of them - or all of them - can possibly do justice to the glorious production of "Les Misérables" that opened Friday night at the Skylight Music Theatre. But blessed may come close for those lucky enough to see it. After it was over, I felt blessed.