Wineke: Madison Opera performs Beethoven’s only opera

Wineke: Madison Opera performs Beethoven’s only opera
Alexandra LoBianco and Clay Hilley meet in Madison Opera's "Fidelio."

Groups other than Madison Opera have performed Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” too, but the Madison performance Friday (it repeats Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center) was really one of the most enjoyable musical events in Madison for quite some time.

“Fidelio” is really a musician’s opera. The narrative has only one improbable plot and there are no side stories taking place that might divert the audience’s attention.

So the musicians have to carry the evening. John DeMain’s Madison Symphony Orchestra and a fairly large cast of quite good singers were up to the task.

The story of “Fidelio,” which premiered in 1805, is that a German whistle-blower, Florestan, (sung by Clay Hilley) is imprisoned in a dungeon by Don Pizzaro. Florestan’s wife, Leonore (sung by Alexandra LoBianco), comes to find him, but she is disguised as a young man, Fidelio. Pizzaro decides to kill Florestan but Leonore/Fidelio stops him and holds him off until Florestan’s friend, Don Fernando, comes to save him.

Pizzaro’s role is sung by Kelly Markgraf. Fernando’s by Liam Moran. Other principles include David Blalock, Matt Boehler, Luke Hrovat-Staedter, Alisa Jordheim and Thomas Leighton. They each had significant roles within the general plot but, if their characters hadn’t been there, the opera could have proceeded without problem.

That in itself makes “Fidelio” somewhat unusual. Most operas have sub-plots galore. In “Fidelio” the jailor’s daughter, Marzelline, (sung by Jordheim) falls in love with the person she thinks is Fidelio, but that’s just a plot device; it doesn’t add to or complicate the underlying drama.

So the singers’ voices are important but their characters, for the most part, aren’t.

All this places a little more importance on the role of the orchestra because, if the plot itself isn’t holding the audience, then the music must do so.

And the music does. The singers all have strong voices and the orchestra was in top form Friday night.

I counted 77 people on the stage, including a handful of extras, called supernumeraries, so you can see it’s quite a production. Though the opera is set in Spain, it is sung in German, which requires even more effort from the chorus. The whole thing is beautifully staged by director Tara Faircloth.

The Friday night audience loved it, providing a standing ovation even before the curtain reopened at opera’s end.