Fidelio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Beethoven's one and only opera, Fidelio, may be more music than theater, but what a glorious stretch of music it is. The tale of a brave, resourceful woman who disguises herself as a man to rescue her husband from wrongful imprisonment merely serves as a springboard for the most idealistic of composers to express his rage against tyranny and injustice, his noble view of womanhood and marriage, and his faith in the human spirit. For me, all Puccini's love duets put together can't match the moment of conjugal bliss when the heroine, Leonore (in her guise as the aptly named Fidelio), embraces the incarcerated Florestan at the end of their long separation. This Chicago Symphony Orchestra staging, which caps its season-long survey of Beethoven's milestones, assembles some of the finest singers from Vienna and Berlin, many of them pals and proteges of conductor Daniel Barenboim. Singing Leonore is Waltraud Meier, a Wagnerian soprano; veteran tenor Thomas Moser is Florestan (though Ben Heppner would've been a better choice); and bass Rene Pape is the kind jailer Rocco. Director Alexander Schulin, whose work for the Berlin Staatsoper (another of Barenboim's affiliations) got him this assignment, has moved the opera's setting from 18th-century Spain to Germany in the 1920s. Instead of the traditional dank dungeon, two tall, imposing walls of filing cabinets face the audience, a symbol of the big-brother government that's imprisoned Florestan. Thankfully, this production also dispenses with most of the original clunky dialogue; instead, Leonore will narrate the action (in English) when called for, using new text by Columbia University cultural critic Edward Said. Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Thursday, 8 PM, and next Sunday, May 31, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 200 S. Michigan; 312-294-3010. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Waltraud Meier/ Thomas Moser photos; uncredited.

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