We have been in snowy Vienna, where we were invited to hear a performance of Beethoven’s opera ‘Fidelio’ in the very theatre where it was premiered (see photo). We were sitting right behind Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the conductor. It was thrilling to be in the Theater an der Wien which, despite renovation of the foyers, must still look very much as it did in Beethoven’s time in the auditorium itself. It was very satisfying too to be so close to a really fine period instrument orchestra, the Concentus Musicus Wien.
The producer had made a curious decision in the final act, where Florestan and Leonora along with the other prisoners are saved by the arrival of a government minister bringing news of reprieve. In this production, the whole scene was re-imagined as a modern oratorio performance. Instead of the government minister, there was ‘Beethoven’, a singer dressed as we recognise the composer from some famous portraits. He sang the minister’s words, but ‘as Beethoven’, appearing as a figure from history, presiding over the cast in their modern dress, the chorus now standing in rows and the main characters in smart black cocktail dresses and suits in a row at the front. Clearly the idea was to break off from the ‘story’ and present the final scene as a kind of moralising on tyranny and freedom. But although we could see the intellectual point, it had the curious effect of lopping off the end of Leonora and Florestan’s story, making us feel we hadn’t actually seen their deliverance.
Our visit coincided with the coldest Easter in Vienna for 130 years. On one day the temperature dropped to minus 4 degrees during the morning. It was painfully cold, so cold that we couldn’t bear to stand still in the street and look at the map.