Florestan, the freedom fighter, languishes in a secret cell. Leonore, his wife, goes undercover as the youth Fidelio to find him. The clock is ticking.

Promising a “modern-day reflection of incarceration,” Matthew Ozawa sets his all-new production for the San Francisco Opera in a harshly lit double-decker metal construction from which no escape seems possible. He’s definitely on the right track.

At the same time, Fidelio is the ultimate rescue opera, its music by turns as shimmering with hope as it can be bleak with desolation. The job of releasing these oppositions falls to the company’s incoming music director Eun Sun Kim, a versatile, internationally acclaimed South Korean conductor, already a local favorite since her debut two years ago leading Dvořák’s Rusalka.

In chains, Florestan (Russell Thomas) hallucinates the approach of an angel in the guise of his wife, Leonore (Elza van den Heever).



Elza van den Heever, a thrilling graduate of the company’s young-artists and fellowship programs, leads the cast as Leonore, noblest, most luminous, and in the crunch most electrifying of heroines. Her Florestan is Russell Thomas, whose music is written in an equally visionary and exalted vein. Greer Grimsley appears as the diabolical Don Pizarro, intent on Florestan’s murder. Soloman Howard commands the final scene as Don Fernando, a virtual deus ex machina representing royal justice, which in turn represents Divine Providence.

Rounding out the cast are James Creswell as the jailer Rocco, an overworked yes-man on the cusp of burnout; Anne-Marie MacIntosh as his daughter Marzelline, the apple of his eye; and Christopher Ogelsby as the fiancé who falls from grace when the boss’s daughter takes a shine to the new boy on the prison block. There are those who look down their noses at these insignificant folk and their everyday concerns, but Beethoven’s heart was bigger than theirs. We’re all connected.

Fidelio is on stage at the San Francisco Opera from October 14 through October 30. Live streams of the performance are available on the San Francisco Opera Web site on October 14, October 17, and October 20

Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii