A full town hall and the presence of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in the audience augured well for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's concert presentation of Fidelio.
Beethoven's only opera, in keeping with its times, celebrates the invincibility of the human spirit. Today, its tale of murky, repressive politics is chillingly relevant, well caught when director Jacqueline Coats marched her male chorus down the aisle to form a stark line-up of uniforms across the stage.
The opera's problematic spoken dialogue was cleverly resolved into a smooth commentary by Paul Whelan's Rocco character, recalling past events with piquant colloquialisms. Only when he had to extricate himself from the action and cross a silent stage to his microphone did one sense an unwanted lull.
A succession of strong and well-sung characterisations set off with a flirtatious Mozartian duet between Natasha Wilson's Marzelline and Oliver Sewell's Jaquino.
When they were joined by Whelan and Kirstin Sharpin as Fidelio in a rapturous quartet, the seal was set for a memorable evening ahead.
Alongside Sharpin, effortlessly conquering the almost Wagnerian demands of her first act aria, Simon O'Neill's Florestan was the archetypal romantic hero.
We were well prepared for his dramatic entrance, with house lights down and Giordano Bellincampi making the most of the aria's long and evocative orchestral introduction. Announcing himself with an anguished cry to God, the tenor explored the many facets of Florestan's torments and hopes, ending in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Phillip Rhodes avoided reducing Pizarro to a melodramatic villain, while James Ioelu, as the noble Don Fernando, was the imposing instigator of the opera's triumphant finale.
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With the full forces of the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus, this was a thrilling, almost primal, ode to freedom. It might also have been celebrating the mighty achievement of our APO in mounting so successfully a completely homegrown Fidelio, in these difficult times.
Where: Auckland Town Hall