In this 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, Melbourne Opera revives Hugh Halliday’s 2013 production of the composer’s only opera. The simple, modern setting sits comfortably with the work’s libretto and mood swings, and the singing is, for the most part, very pleasing, making this a welcome return by Fidelio– a masterpiece that is, inexplicably, performed infrequently.

Melbourne Opera Fidelio Bradley Daley and Kirstin Sharpin in Melbourne Opera’s  Fidelio. Photos © Robin Halls

Beethoven’s original take, called Leonore, premiered in Vienna in 1805. It was heavily reworked for an 1806 revival, before being overhauled again for a successful run in 1814. This is the version that has endured.

Apparently inspired by actual events during the French Revolution, Fideliobegins with light, Mozartian romantic comedy. Marzelline, daughter of prison warden Rocco, is unsuccessfully wooed by the warden’s assistant, Jaquino. She only has eyes for Fidelio, unaware that this new employee is a woman in disguise. As the opera’s tone grows increasingly dark, we learn that Fidelio’s real name is Leonore, and that she’s trying to rescue her husband, Florestan. He is being starved in the prison’s dungeon by order of the governor, Pizarro, whose decision...