Thoughts on Fidelio (and China)

From Pear L. Echeman:

So I read that the San Francisco Opera Company put on Fidelio and saw some of the pictures of how they were modernizing the production: Review: S.F. Opera’s new ‘Fidelio’ uses chain-link fences and video monitors in a political parable | Datebook (

Then I saw in the Guardian a different company doing the same kinda thing with a modern prison landscape: Fidelio review – musically excellent but panopticon staging is overloaded | Opera | The Guardian

Dutch and Australian productions have recently done pretty much the same thing. I suppose high society is just brimming with creativity these days. Last year, slightly before covid, the UK put on a more planned and articulate production using Robespierre’s Reign of Terror as a backdrop, which is actually fitting for this opera.  
Melbourne 2020:

Looks like their 2013 production, but they want to make a big deal about it Fidelio (2020) – Melbourne OperaMET 2020:

Recycling ROH 2011 season

ROH 2020:

Fidelio was not the most highly regarded work by Beethoven, the composer himself was often revising and unsatisfied with it and had no intention for the “final” version that is used today to be the final version he had intended. One aspect that helped it gain popularity in its time was that it belonged to an emerging genre, think Les Miserables, involving prisoners seeking freedom. This was because in the post revolutionary climate, European censors forbade any printed or performed mentions of Freedom pertaining to anything except being released from prison. So, like with Film Noir or gothic fairytales, this prison genre that swept literature and the stage was a way of metaphorically addressing verboten political topics.

Frisco, Europe, and the Bruce’s are following a revival of this opera in a last ditch effort to fill seats when people want to stay home, watch netflix, and eat ice cream (that pandemic needs a name at this point, STG: shelter in place, watch television, and eat garbage food). It’s because Beethoven turned 250 last December and Fidelio is the only visual thing he ever worked on. One place that isn’t trying to jump on Fidelio’s public-domain bandwagon is China, that place with 1.5 billion people give or take a few hundred thousand.

I don’t have China’s Ministry of Culture on speed-dial, so I can’t ask them why Beethoven’s only opera is prohibited [in all formats], but the Panopticon layout of cities, and even rural areas in the 21st century, might come under inauspicious scrutiny if this opera was bandied about.

It’s so fascinating, to me, that if you are under 18 in 2021 and live in China, or Tibet, or Hong Kong, and probably Taiwan (maybe not Taiwan) that you are only allowed to play online video games between 8 and 9 pm on Fri-Sun (so only with people in your time-zone I guess) and you can’t listen to Beethoven’s only opera, but what can you do? Well you can study study study and if you’re good enough, the country will pay for you to go to the most elite universities all over the planet where you can play online video games all day while blasting whatever German aria you want, no questions asked. Huh.

You of course understand that in the US we are not going to get the “real skinny” on China. In China, you  are not going to get the real skinny on China, so I’m told. Interestingly, in my limited life, the people I have interacted with from lands afar have not supported the stereotype that I’ve been fed. They are kinda like you and me. Fortunately, until they mandate brain-implants for foodstuffs, the triumph of the human spirit will always work around the censors, discovering new semi-permissible metaphors and swapping names, genders, and races around. 

Point being, you can’t censor Fidelio, you can only criminalize artists thus bringing attention to your hypocrisy. Funny thing is that the attendees in a place like San Francisco are so conceited that they identify with Pizzaro, think to themselves this is boring and too long, and then brag about how much they loved it for days to come.

 – Pear L. Echeman

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