I’m just back from a very difficult evening,Fidelio at the SF Opera. Profoundly humbling and discouraging. There’s lots to like about Fidelio, of course, despite Beethoven’s transparent struggles with the demands of theater; for example, it gives us a brave, clever woman who rescues her endangered husband, and for a change there’s not a man in the story who does anything really admirable. Even with a merely good tenor instead of Jon Vickers the opening of Act II is electrifying, and the choruses are marvelous.
But the last time I saw it, perhaps a decade ago, it was about the kind of thing bad people in foreign, benighted, and afflicted lands did to their freedom fighters and those who spoke truth to power. Tonight, when the prisoners staggered out of their cells into the sun in Act I, ragged, haggard, and beat-up, all I could think of was how many of the wretched oubliettes around the world, with ragged, haggard, and beat-up people in them, have an American Flag or a CIA compass over the door, and God knows what horrors being practiced inside.
Florestan’s existence, let alone his presence in the dungeon, is simply denied by Pizzaro, who’s given out that he’s dead. Of course Napoleonic Spain didn’t have habeas corpus as we do, so he had no way to get any kind of officlal attention to his case. If his wife didn’t bust him out, he was gone forever, guilty or innocent. Sort of like the wretches in Cuban prisons now. And in our prison in Cuba now, and who knows what other ones.
I don’t suppose it ever made sense to be proud to be American; after all, I didn’t make America. Much more reasonable just to hope America is proud of me, given the direction of the causal arrow. But I enjoyed it despite its absurdity while it lasted, and the bitter taste of this evening’s entertainment is going to linger.