Listening through images
Director Andriy Zholdak on Beethoven and Fidelio
Text: Luc Joosten
Andriy Zholdak is one of the most idiosyncratic directors in the opera and theatre world. In his work, which is strongly influenced by great filmmakers like Bergman, Fellini and Tarkovsky, the Ukrainian director is always looking for a deeper layer that transcends the boundaries of space and time. His productions are symbolic dream worlds and associative experiences that take the spectator on a trip – in every sense of the word.
In that light it is hardly surprising that his approach to opera differs from that of other directors. ‘I begin by simply listening to the music, without paying any attention to the libretto,’ says Zholdak. ‘I don’t need to know the plot; I just allow the text to be opaque and mysterious. I mainly just want to listen, to give space to the timeless message of the composer, because the composer’s talent and genius are often more powerful than figuring out the story. When I’m listening, it feels like I’m digging up the artwork in question, as if it’s come to me in a recently unearthed time capsule.
Divine and tragic
It is only at a later stage that Zholdak considers the work’s libretto and context. ‘I also immerse myself in the figure of the composer: in Beethoven, his life and everything he experienced, especially from the moment he tragically started to lose his hearing. His deafness plunged him into a place which the hearing people around him had no access to. Beethoven dwelt in an abyss, and with all his inner hearing and sight, he was able to hear and see the realm of purgatory, hell, heaven and whatever might lie beyond. To me, on the one hand, he’s a tragic figure, and all the music that came out of him contains these immense infernal fires. On the other, he’s a man who witnessed the presence of something divine. He imbibed the nectar of the gods, the rarefied air of harmony, and his music is filled with religious secrets.’
‘I give space to the timeless message of the composer’
An eye for world events
Despite all the attention he pays to the mysterious and timeless, Zholdak stays abreast of what is going on in contemporary society. ‘Of course I ask myself: How can I tell this story to people who are living today, in the first quarter of the 21st century, when we as human beings are being tested once again and have to define who we are and what we stand for? What lies within us, in terms of anger, cruelty, evil, greed, kindness, empathy and love?’
These are the questions that Fidelio asks too: the opera tells a story about the horrors that lie within us all, but also about beauty, hope, peace, freedom and harmony
is a Ukrainian theatre and opera director. From 2002 to 2005 he was the artistic director of the Taras Shevchenko Theatre in Kharkiv. Highlights of recent seasons include Zemlinsky’s Der König Kandaules in Antwerp, Eugene Onegin in St Petersburg and Tchaikovsky’s The Sorceress and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle in Lyon.