MANITOBA OPERA, Lifestyles55

Manitoba Opera’s season-opening production of Fidelio will be the first new production built by the company since Transit of Venus in 2007 and general director and CEO Larry Desrochers has chosen to direct this new production himself.

“This opera has been one of my favourites for a very long time,’’ he explains. “It’s a special opera in that it speaks to a primal need in us all – which is the desire to be free, to live in freedom, and to have the freedom to speak freely. Most opera companies today reset Fidelio to a more contemporary time period to show that its central themes are as relevant today as they were when Beethoven’s only opera premiered in 1805.

“Without giving too much away, I have very specific ideas about the world that Beethoven has created in the opera and how we can connect that world to the world we live in today. And I hope our production will make that apparent to the audience.”

Tasked with making this vision a reality is Manitoba Opera’s director of production, Sheldon Johnson, who is designing the set and overseeing its construction. The production is scheduled for November.

“I draw my inspiration from architecture,” he explains. “I spend a lot of time searching online for images of architecture from the period in which the story is set and these form the basis of the initial presentation to the director.

“In the case of Fidelio, I looked for inspiration in Brutalist architecture. Coincidentally, there are plenty of examples in Winnipeg within walking distance of my office in the Concert Hall of this architecture: the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Canadian Grain Commission building, the Radisson Hotel, and the Public Safety building, to name a few.

“Brutalist architecture, or Brutalism, is a style of postmodernist architecture that developed in the 1950s and was prevalent through the 1970s. It’s a no-nonsense-style architecture that strips away ornamentation and emphasizes the underlying construction, in most cases, poured concrete,” Sheldon explains.

“Fidelio tells the story of the courageous Leonore who poses as a young man (Fidelio) in order to work in the prison where her husband (Florestan) is wrongly imprisoned for his political beliefs. The constructed set will feature very tall concrete walls with no visual means of escape, to emulate a prison. My goal is achieve something that is visually interesting and which gives the director the setting in which he can effectively tell the story.”

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