Review:  Beethoven’s Fidelio revived by Gustavo Dudamel and the Deaf West Theatre for both the hearing and deaf audiences  

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Apr. 26, 2022

The Walt Disney Concert Hall featured the LA Philharmonic, the Deaf West Theatre and the White Hands Choir for their first deaf and hearing performance of “Fidelio” on April 16.

“Fidelio” was not written for the deaf, but it was written by hearing-impaired composer Beethoven and librettists, or the lyrical composers, Joseph Sonnleithner, Stephan von Breuning and Fredrich Treitschke. Fidelio is a rescue opera. Set in a prison in 18th-century Spain, Leonore saves her wrongfully imprisoned husband by disguising herself as a jail worker, Fidelio.

Personally, operas can be a bit draining not because of the composition but the length. Although in this case, I have never been so inclined to see this opera unfold. It was more than Beethoven’s obvious inclination to Mozart that seeped its way into this composition that kept the audience awake; it was the power behind the production and the whole concept. It is astounding to think that one day an audience of a music concert hall would be filled with both the hearing and the deaf.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

The set was bare, but for good reason: it wasn’t the main attraction. We didn’t come here to see the story come to life; we came to see life within the actors, or the actors bringing life into the story. The costumes, fitting the era and strongly detailed in design, were indicative to distinguish the hearing from the deaf. The white costumes represented the hearing vocalists and color costumes represented the deaf actors.

The obvious divide, indicated by voice and costume, was unobtrusive. There was an acknowledgment of each other which brought a comical touch but also contributed to an even more natural performance. The hearing vocalists acted as a voice for the deaf actors. The actors signed ASL, or American Sign Language, while vocalists sang. The relationship between actor and voice was like a marriage, each acting as an essential counterpart for one another.

The leading couple, Leonore and Florestan, played by Amelia Hensley and Joshua Castille, was head over heels for each other. For what seems to be a predictable love story on paper was actually heartwarming to see on stage. Leonore’s insistent love and endurance to save Florestan was greatly represented by Hensley’s spirted performance, and the agony of an innocent soul was personified by Castille’s acting.

Soprano Christiane Libor’s “Komm Hoffnung,” showcased her rich sound that ensnared the attention of the audience onto both her and the actress Amelia Hensley. One other notable performance would be tenor Ian Koziara’s aria, “Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!” Koziara’s control of voice demanded adoration, setting the second act up for a strong foundation that ultimately augured a successful performance for the rest of the vocalists.

The Deaf West Theatre produces theatre and media performances that are both for deaf and hearing audiences. The actors displayed a devotedness to communicate to the audience the emotion of each character. The White Hands Choir is comprised of children and young adults with physical and cognitive disabilities as well as those who do not have one. The performers evinced this visual beauty through both their acting and sign.

The LA Philharmonic sustained their model stature as the pit orchestra. Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel was like a flame to a candle as he conducted the symphonic orchestra. The audience glued their eyes onto him as he conducted with verve. Dudamel acted as the confluence of both flowing waters each with different currents yet brought to unity by the revered conductor.

There is a necessary call for commendation—the translation. For this performance, the libretto had to be translated from German to English then to ASL. There were two audiences that night and we all needed to understand one opera.

How do I even begin to explain how profound this event was? This is what the arts are supposed to stand for–inclusion. There is a privilege when you involve yourself with the arts. Just as it is stressful and demanding, they can also be a privilege to be able to express yourself in an art form. We must do what it takes to categorize this not as a privilege but a norm for all to access and enjoy.

Feature image courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association


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