Anti-Heroics

Beethoven wrote dramatic music, but he was no dramatist.

Compared to Wagner, who devoted himself solely to composing music dramas, it’s clear why “Fidelio,” which kicked off the LA Opera’s season Saturday night, is Beethoven’s lone attempt at opera: It’s not his genre.

“Fidelio” dates from the “heroic” period in Beethoven’s career, yet no amount of heroics by the Los Angeles Opera — including energetic performances by Anja Kampe as Lenore, Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan, and James Conlon conducting the orchestra— could make “Fidelio” engaging. The plot is one-dimensional even by operatic standards, and when the curtain falls on our reunited protagonists, we feel like we never knew them.

“Fidelio” contains many passages of musical beauty. But the over-long interlude in Act II comes just when the lovers have tumbled to the floor in a fiery embrace, and kills all dramatic momentum. The final chorus is another fine example of Beethoven’s long-windedness, and in both instances it’s clear why the composer couldn’t stop himself: with either a darkened stage or a chorus to score, he’s in his element.

Director and designer Pier’ Alli employs a wonderful use of multimedia at the opening of Act II, with a riveting video journey into the prison where Florestan (whom we don’t meet until this point) lies in misery. But the screen that serves as the fourth wall should have been lifted when Florestan finishes his opening aria.

Instead it stays in place for the entire duration of the performance, a headache-inducing symbol of the distance between audience and story in this uninteresting contribution to the operatic repertoire.

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