There is a timelessness to the themes of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio: a story of personal sacrifice and triumph, struggles for justice and liberty. Set in the late 18th century outside Seville, this transcendent quality of the opera allows it to be adapted successfully to different centuries, different countries as in Annabelle Comyn's new production for Irish National Opera at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.

Sinéad Campbell Wallace (Leonore) and Daniel Sumegi (Rocco)
© Patrick Redmond

Beethoven originally called his work Leonore, or the Triumph of Martial Love which encapsulates his vision. It is a temptation for directors to allow the political to trump the personal, freedom being an easier sell than marital love. Under Comyn’s modernising setting, we have a moving, convincing Fidelio resonating with our current age, with consistently good singing throughout.

The set and costume designs by Francis O’Connor are simple but effective. Office desks under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting is sufficient for setting the scene for the warden’s office while the prison is excellently delineated with moveable bars and passageways on different levels. The guards’ costume – blue shirt, jacket, trousers and cap – allows Leonore to mask her gender and pose convincingly as a man, while the orange jumpsuit for political prisoner Florestan has echoes of Guantanamo Bay.

Robert Murray (Florestan) and Brian Mulligan (Don Pizarro)
© Patrick Redmond

The Irish National Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Fergus Sheil, sounded fresh, crisp and vibrant. Sheil did a tremendous job of balancing the forces of the orchestra with the singers, particularly those suspended high up on the passageways. He brought a vitality and energy that was particularly noticeable in the rousing closing chorus.

Soprano Sinéad Campbell Wallace was a thoroughly convincing Leonore/Fidelio. Her voice is on the light side, but that did not stop her pouring out her soul in her “Abscheulicher” set piece, imbuing it with great sensitivity. Dramatically too, Campbell Wallace conveyed the anguish, the desperation and finally the joy of her character marvellously. Robert Murray imbued his role debut as Florestan with wonderful, heartfelt emotion. The high quiet first note of his aria which opens Act 2 was impressively done while his “may you be rewarded in a better world” dripped with pathos as he fails to recognise “Fidelio” for who she truly is. His limping around in chains was very convincing, as was his shock on discovering his wife.

Robert Murray (Florestan) and Sinéad Campbell Wallace (Leonore)
© Patrick Redmond

Bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi made for a morally dubious, but ultimately approachable Rocco. The low heft of his voice made for a suitably domineering father/father-in-law. His crise de conscience at the end of Act 2 made sense here since it had been obvious from his body language that he was troubled talking about Florestan and his conditions in Act 1. His duets, trios and quartets with Leonore, Marzelline and Jaquino were some of the highlights of the evening.

As the villain Don Pizarro, Brian Mulligan looked the part in a formal business suit, but menace lurking beneath the surface. At the start, his projection was not the loudest but his voice opened up through the performance. Soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson was a lovesick Marzelline, adding depth to her character whenever she appeared. Her suitor, Jaquino, at the beginning was played to good comic effect by tenor Dean Power, his voice powerful and his acting suitably miffed as his advances are continuously rejected.

Irish National Opera Chorus
© Patrick Redmond

David Howes was a suitably opportunist Don Fernando as he arrives at the end to liberate the prisoners. His voice had an unctuous quality to it as he received the praise of all. The Irish National Opera Chorus were in terrific form. The hesitant singing as they were allowed out into the courtyard captured their bewilderment, while the chorus of liberation at the end was sung with great gusto and energy.