Sometimes the music is enough. Sometimes the performance does not have to be revelatory.
That was arguably the case Sunday at Hollywood Bowl when Sir Charles Groves led the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra in a concert version of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” that excised the spoken dialogue.
For starters, the Bonn master’s only opera certainly doesn’t compete in popularity with, say, “La Boheme.” So one is simply glad for a chance to hear it.
Second, “Fidelio” lends itself to straight musical performance because Beethoven, as only he would, conceived his mighty ode to freedom from oppression in terms that transcend the mere unfolding of a single dramatic situation. Furthermore, its inconsistencies of style make it hard, at best, to pull off as a fully successful stage endeavor.
If no one individually among the promising cast could penetrate the heroic challenge to thrilling results--and there are precious few of these in the world--it didn’t matter. If Groves could offer no more than a careful, workman-like account of the difficult score and accommodate his soloists unerringly, then fine.
The innocence, warmth and optimism of “Mir ist so wunderbar” (the first act quartet) came across with its sublime musical moment intact. The Prisoners’ Chorus--thanks to the men of John Alexander’s Pacific and Northridge Masterworks Chorale--began as a hushed thing of awe and later soared with heart-rending fervor. Here and there, throughout, Beethoven triumphed.
But that’s not to say the Philharmonic had provided a great dramatic soprano for the title role-- one among that rare breed with the vocal heft and power to match Beethoven’s conception of unshakable strength.
Deborah Polaski, an American rising on the Mannheim and Stuttgart horizon and rumored to be the next Bruennhilde at Bayreuth, certainly could not hurl out Leonore’s “Abscheulicher!” with anything resembling the fury and anger this undyingly devoted wife feels on hearing a henchman pass a death sentence on her good husband. In the rest of the scene, she coped decently with the heroic coloratura and ascending lines.
Once past this most trying segment, however, she could guarantee a cutting edge and beauty of tone--notwithstanding thin patches above the staff and under pressure.
As for Timothy Jenkins, the Florestan, similar things could be said. He lacked the voice to match his physical amplitude but luckily did not have to personify visually a prisoner subsisting on bread and water for two years. Granted, Beethoven asked the impossible when he placed the high-tessitura aria for Heldentenor as a first assignment.
Even so, Jenkins barely managed the requisite clarion ring. As the second act went along, however, he warmed up and the Florestan-Leonore duet had its wonted rapture.
The other Bowl debutantes were Lorraine Hunt, a plush-voiced, rather than a piping, Marzelline and Timothy Noble, whose Pizarro fell short of dark villainy but whose refined and vibrant baritone was its own virtue. Kenneth Cox’s large, flexible bass brought presence to Rocco, Jonathan Mack made a vocally poised Jaquino, while Michael Gallup seemed off-form in Fernando’s final benediction.
The orchestra clearly struggled at times but Groves generally held things together and kept up momentum. Conducting fellow George Robert Hanson led the overture capably and the crowd of 6,431 paid close attention to John Boyle’s narration of the synopsis--competent except for the inappropriate tone of his conclusion, which hardly matched the opening one in which he related “Fidelio” to oppression in Nicaragua and South Africa.