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LAPO breaks the sound barrier between deaf and hearing audiences with Beethoven's "Fidelio"

LAPO Deaf Fidelio.jpg
Dustin Downing/Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic, soloist and actors from Deaf West Theatre, with the White Hands Choir of Venezuela in the back, in a new production of Beethoven’s opera, “Fidelio,” April 14 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, written as the famous composer reckoned with deafness, has been innovatively semi-staged with Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Philharmonic and artists from Deaf West Theatre.

If epic love, wordless emotion, and timeless, visual grandeur can be communicated entirely in silence and solely through physical gesture, facial expression, or imagery — then why not an opera conveyed without sound?

That was the revolutionary idea of Maestro Gustavo Dudamel that lead to a unique partnership and semi-staged production of Beethoven's only opera Fidelio, sung by hearing vocalists and expressively signed by Deaf actors.

The production, which took place in April 2022 at Walt Disney Concert Hall was no small feat. For example, each role required two performers - an actor from Deaf West Theatre who signed his/her part, and a singer. Actors were in dark costumes, while the singers were draped in white costumes. The chorus, which was seated on the two sides of the stage, surrounded members of the White Hands Choir - the hearing-impaired Venezuelan ensemble that appeared in white robes as they moved about the stage signing the choral parts.

Working with both hearing and non-hearing performers required video screens with signers to cue the actors. Also, since Fidelio was originally written in German, the sign language and the subtitles projected for the audience, had to be translated.

The groundbreaking event conducted by Gustavo Dudamel was co-directed by Alberto Arvelo and Joaquín Solano, and produced in collaboration with Los Angeles’ acclaimed Tony Award®-winning Deaf West Theatre (Artistic Director, David Kurs) and Venezuela’s Coro de Manos Blancas (White Hands Choir).

Read the LA Times review by Mark Swed.
Learn more about the program and the actors.