Beethoven’s Leonore at Buxton

The Buxton staging of Beethoven’s Leonore was my first encounter with the work; how should it be compared with Fidelio? Director Stephen Medcalf in his programme note suggests that it is more discursive but also more dramatic, the additional scenes filling out the characters to make them more interesting. This was certainly true of the passage towards the end when Leonore and Florestan are left together alone, uncertain of their fate; but in other respects I do not agree. The additional duet between Leonore and Marzelline is not as claimed “touching and humorous in the Shakespearean way” but, rather, tedious. Beethoven’s revisions made the piece tauter and more effective, the plot moving swifter towards its resolution. Medcalf did not help his cause by the decision to present the opera as a reflection of the composer’s ideal of womanhood. In the overture we see Florestan portraying him at the clavichord struggling with the writing of the score, with a long white-gowned Leonore appearing to inspire him. At the end the soldiers in Don Fernando’s army remove their uniform to reveal themselves as women in the same long white gown. A silly conceit which adds nothing to the appreciation of the work. The fact that around me in the audience there was tittering at various points was an indicator that the director had failed in his task.

Sadly there was not much musically to compensate for these shortcomings. On the positive side, Stephen Barlow in the pit offered an assured reading of the score and Hrólfur Sæmundsson cut through the orchestral sound with his bright brilliant baritone to make a suitably nasty Don Pizzaro. The Dane David Danholt too had sufficient steel in his tenor to impress as Florestan, though it weakened when put under pressure in the highest register. The soprano of Kirstin Sharpin does not appear ready yet to meet the demands of Leonore, the voice spreading and losing its quality in fortissimo passages and, though the experienced bass Scott Wilde does have the appropriate equipment for Rocco, he sang the part too much as if it were in an operetta. Credit to the Festival for mounting the work, but it was not a success.