Behind the scenes of Fidelio

Fidelio 1

'Fidelio' set model (Madeleine Boyd)

Tickets are selling fast for Fidelio at Longborough (24 June - 2 July 2017): if you haven't got yours yet, book online today or call the Box Office on 01451 830292.

This is a bold new production that asks what imprisonment and longing means to all of us. We talked to directer Orpha Phelan and designer Madeleine Boyd about the inspiration behind their futuristic setting, and what to expect at Longborough in June...

​Like any great work of art, Fidelio has the power to transcend time and cross borders

Orpha Phelan

Where did you start with Fidelio? What attracted you to your futuristic setting?

Orpha Phelan, Director: Put simply, Fidelio is sublime. It contains some of the most beautiful music ever written – and Fidelio also feels very much part of our zeitgeist. Open any newspaper and you’ll find a reference of one sort or another to illegally detained prisoners, corruption and counterterrorism: updating Fidelio seemed like a very natural approach to take. Like any great work of art, Fidelio has the power to transcend time and cross borders – and reach us all in very personal ways in the process.

What is the role of the design?

Madeleine Boyd, Designer: I think it’s important that the design conveys that the prison is unjust, corrupt, and cruel – and that we believe it. We don't have those normal semaphore signs of prison bars and chains: we've got to construct a fleshed-out world of how our prison works. My role as a designer is to come up with little tricks, gadgets and touches that will guide the audience visually to the right conclusion.

What was your main visual inspiration?

MB: Orpha and I sat down and wrote the film of Fidelio – including what designs, and what films would be relevant: what sort of look we'd be going for. Prometheus; Mad Max; H.R Giger's Alien designs; modernist buildings; anything hinting towards the future and near-future.

We've drawn from hostile environments – submarines, space travel – because you get slightly odd details and design. We decided that we're using the prisoners somehow, we're doing something inhumane to them – which is a response to the fact that we cannot let them out of physical doors. We had to have an interpretation of being 'let out': so for us it's being 'undrugged', and 'unsyringed'.

OP: When we think of institutions now, we realise that many inmates in prisons or patients in hospitals are already drugged to a greater or lesser degree to make them biddable. Looking to the future, especially in a post-apocalyptic world, Mads and I could imagine prisoners being kept in a drugged state of semi-consciousness. With soaring overcrowding and plummeting resources, it certainly seems like a possibility, no?

Fidelio 2

'Fidelio' set model (Madeleine Boyd)

What are you trying to show about the characters?

MB: I'm not particularly interested in the 'good and faithful wife' lesson: I'm more interested in making characters not so clearly black and white. Leonore has to corrupt herself – and be quite cruel to Marzelline – to save her husband; and one wonders what Florestan had to do to be this political prisoner. For us this has been about, ‘what does it mean to be incarcerated?'. I think you could argue that Pizarro is just as trapped by his situation as anybody else. I would love it if people came away from Fidelio and didn't see Pizarro as a baddie, and Florestan as a goodie and Leonore as a faithful wife – and rather saw everybody as a little bit more human. I would like the audience to identify with Pizarro as much as with Florestan.

Did your understanding of the music and the opera evolve through the creative process?

OP: Definitely – but I wouldn’t say I’m there yet! There is still a lot to discover. As we speak, I’m half way through the process of learning Fidelio. Every day I spend a couple of hours learning several pages and every day I am more and more in awe of this great work. I have no doubt that when we begin rehearsals I will be even more moved. There are subtleties in the music that I will only discover when we are all together in one room, really bringing the piece to life. And when we are finished I imagine I’ll feel like we have only scratched the surface. That’s what it’s like working on a masterpiece!

Read more in the 2017 programme book

This article is an extract from the souvenir programme book for Longborough's 2017 Festival. To read the full article, buy your programme book from the Box Office in the theatre foyer during your visit to the Festival.

Book online for Fidelio (24 June - 2 July)

Tickets are selling fast for Fidelio. Secure your seats today: book online or call the Box Office on 01451 830292.