Monday, 6 September 2010

"I couldn't believe they were all so thick": Leonora lets her hair down with Hairman at the Opera

Photo and wig from here

Before I lose any semblance of respect I'll begin by suggesting you may want to jump to the musical excerpts. If on the other hand you've had a drink, are feeling in a good mood or are curious to see what a cock-up I've made of sticking to this idea then by all means carry on reading.

Hairman: First of all many thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Leonore / Fidelio:
It is a pleasure, but I’m refusing to praise the great martyr Don Pizarro.

H: Duly noted.

L / F:
To think what that man subjected Florestan to and he is now being commemorated as if he was a great and good man…ach!

(Throws hands up)

H: We’re here today to talk about your impressions of late eighteenth century Seville, more specifically the reports that Seville prison experienced a rare, but devastating outbreak of Chronic Gullibility Syndrome, or CGS for short. As someone who was present at the time in question do you think the claims are well founded?

(She laughs)

H: I’ll take that as confirmation?

L / F: You may.

H: What makes you think that people were suffering from CGS?

L / F: How much do you know about the episode?

H: What do you mean?

L / F:
It was more than just CGS that was at work during my time in the gaol. There were also spontaneous occurrences of singing taking place throughout that ghastly place. I would be walking from my room to the kitchen when without warning I would be singing about the joys of leg extension. Everybody, and everything was affected. Men, women, children, birds, There was even an orchestra hidden away in the gaol. It was all very fantastic.

H: I guess it would have been.

(Silence while I wait for a response from Leonore who hums quietly to herself)

H: Any specific examples of this singing and CGS?

L / F: Too many to number! But there are a few that I can recall without difficulty to this day. Marzelline, the gaoler's daughter, was a sweet girl who was forever being bothered by Jaquino, the porter. He was quite harmless really but he was one of those infuriating men who need to be informed repeatedly that their advances are simply not welcome. It was because of him that I think Marzelline fell for her father’s assistant. His name was Fidelio, a young man starting out in life. The trouble was that Fidelio was I, and I was there to rescue my husband from his doom, dressed in a frankly pathetic disguise that included the most capacious shirt and hat you could ever wish to see. Despite this ridiculous costume she couldn’t deduce I was a woman. I knew straight away that something was amiss when I heard her singing this touching song.

L / F: I was surprised she never wondered why her Signorinashave blades began running out the time I came to the gaol. But she wasn’t the only one not to realise I wasn't a young man. Rocco and Jacquino were just as appalling. Take this example when we broke out into song at the same time. You would have thought one of them would have questioned why my voice was more akin to Marzelline's than to theirs. But perhaps they were too taken with their hopes and cares to realise something was wrong.

H: It is quite obvious that your voice isn’t that of a man.

L / F: You can tell, sitting here. But if you had been there at the time in question you would have been as hopeless as the rest. But Rocco, the gaoler, was also blinded by something other than this CGS. He was eager for his daughter to marry and I am of the opinion that he was willing to ignore the truth. He was like us all really, wishing things were different than they were...and he did have a weakness for money, especially gold and how it affected the quality of happiness a person could hope to experience in their lifetime.

L / F: I couldn’t accuse the prisoners of being gullible, locked away as they were in those pitch-black cells they could hardly see the gruel, and thankfully not the maggots, in their bowls. They were quite overcome when Marzelline and I encouraged Rocco to allow them to be let out in the yard. It may have been some years since many had been outside, let alone seen the sun.

L / F: Florestan was by far the worst of any of the prisoners. The poor man was losing his mind. Pizarro had him hidden away from the other prisoners, kept alone in the bottommost dungeon. A terrifying place for any soul. This was his reward for telling the truth.

H: Did anyone suspect who you were?

L / F: Not one person. I cleaned up after everyone, always insisted the toilet seat be put down, never did I take part in their sport of pelting the village idiot with rotten tomatoes. I had protuberances where they hadn’t any, and vice versa. Even Pizarro failed to recognise me, and he possessed the senses of a hawk. Pardon me for saying this but I couldn't believe they were all so thick. But that was before this CGS of yours stopped working its witchcraft on us. Did you know this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened in Seville?

H: Erm. No.

L / F: It seems that a teenager called Cherubino was mistaken for a girl. And then there was a count who dressed up in all manner of disguises. Even though he was well known throughout the countryside and town nobody recognised him. Of course he never pretended to be anything other than a man so perhaps it doesn’t tally with your CGS. But they all broke into song.

H: Did they now?

L / F: But I doubt they sang anything as joyful as everyone in the gaol did to celebrate our deliverance from Pizarro's clutches and my rescuing Florestan.

L / F: And then, as soon as we finished singing this CGS of yours weakened its grasp. But not utterly. Pizarro, following his death was pardoned by our new ruler and is now heralded as a martyr. The poor souls he tormented will be forgotten. Are we finished now?

All recreations were undertaken by:

Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Arnold Schoenberg Chor Wien (Chorus Master Erwin Ortner)
Claudio Abbado: Conductor

Peter Mattei: Don Fernando
Falk Struckmann: Don Pizarro
Jonas Kaufmann: Florestan
Nina Stemme: Leonore
Christof Fischesser: Rocco
Rachel Harnisch: Marzelline
Christoph Strehl: Jaquino
Juan Sebastian Acosta: First Prisoner
Levente Pall: Second Prisoner

Their efforts will be recognised with a CD release in early 2011 on the Decca label.

In a Please don't sue me notice the recordings will cease to exist after the final performance of WNO's Fidelio at Oxford's New Theatre on the 3rd of December.


  1. LOL !! I believe "this CGS of yours" is quite a common illness here in Spain, hahahaha.

  2. I think I came down with it myself when I wrote this post - definitely one to mark as "never again" :))

  3. Can't wait to see what the disguise will be in WNO ;-)) I also like it when they update the prision to put neonlights or so and then Florestan goes... welch dunkel hier! ;-) And i am yet to see a Florestan who looks proper scruffy after his 2 years in prison :-)))

    And this Seville is quite the place, ain't it? Barbers, prisoners, dashing counts and womenising counts and in all cases the servants outsmart their masters and the women the men ;-))) And disguising and dressing up def seems to be a local hobby!

  4. If ever anyone needs pointers on how to look scruffy after two hours, let alone two years then they need look no further. I reckon I could build quite a career making over Fidelio's :))))))))))))