Last night before the start of Utah Opera's production of Fidelio, which opened its new season, the bagpipe player who can often be found serenading theatre-goers was once more in attendance, lending his own particular brand of magic.
My 11-year-old daughter, Elli, watched open-mouthed as some passing students, decked out in black tie and gowns for homecoming, danced an impromptu gig outside the Capitol Theater. In retrospect, while the production we were going to see demonstrated magic in the singing department, other aspects might have benefited from a little more spontaneity and a little less over-thinking.
We took our seats, Elli wearing a cocktail frock with a faux-fur coat, her hair curled to within an inch of its life. I first took Elli to a Utah Opera production when she was six. She sat back then with wide-eyed fascination, and her attention this time round to Beethoven's Fidelio, the only opera the composer wrote, was equally rapt.
In his program notes, Utah Opera director Christopher McBeth linked Fidelio's tale of a woman who disguises herself as a man to get into prison to be with her unjustly incarcerated husband with recent memorial events dedicated to 9/11. The connection, apparently, is the triumph of the human spirit before adversity. What may have struck some as a rather forced comparison was further evident on the stage. The stage director, in search of a prison set that could be in any epoch, made some rather odd choices, notably putting a broken-down piano in the cell, which proved particularly distracting.
While the costumes at times resembled out-takes from a bad high school production of Michael Jackson's Thriller, the artistry of the performers -- notably Brenda Harris as the love-driven cross-dresser, Leonore/Fidelio, Shannon Kessler Dooley as the smitten Marzelline and the commanding, eloquent Gustav Andreassen (according to the program notes, although his photo suggests he's far too young for the singer I so admired last night) as the jailer Rocco -- would not be denied.
The simplicity of the story, rather brutally underscored by dressing the good guys in white, the bad guys in black leather (someone please save the trenchcoat from its eternal victimization as a symbol of Nazi cruelty) proved at times irksome, but the chemistry between Harris and Corey Bix as Fidelio's husband Florestan carried the night beautifully to a well-deserved standing ovation.
As we exited the theatre, the homecoming students long since gone, Elli said how much she enjoyed the singing and the acting on display both inside and outside the theatre that night. "That was fun," she said, her eyes sparkling. I could only agree.