NOTABLE champions over two decades of the works of Richard Wagner, Longborough Festival Opera this year offered its first engagement with the only opera written by an earlier German master, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Fidelio is a perfect piece, with an uplifting theme of virtue vanquishing villainy, over which the composer laboured long.

Though the tale it tells is timeless, there is something slightly discomfiting in the tricksy production director Orpha Phelan offers here, with the action shifted into a dystopian future.

The jail presided over by evil Don Pizarro (Simon Thorpe) is clearly a base for medical experimentation. This is possibly concerned with diet to judge by conveyor-belt food preparation by the prisoners during the (excellently played) overture.

These cowed automata are connected by tubes to a central machine whose somewhat Heath Robinson appearance (designer Madeleine Boyd) rather detracts from the aura of menace.

Purists will surely object (I did) to the spoken dialogue delivered in up-to-the-minute English, since the German always sounds lovely (even if unintelligible to most of us without surtitles).

Happily, the music sounds even lovelier as delivered here under conductor Gad Kadosh.

Soprano Elizabeth Atherton (pictured) looks just right and sings beautifully as loyal wife Leonora, on the prison staff in male disguise to rescue her husband Florestin (Adrian Dwyer) from the jail’s deepest dungeon. The joy of their reunion is brilliantly conveyed.

This is bad news for flighty Marzelline (Lucy) Hall), daughter of jailer Rocco (John Paul Huckle), who had a fancy for ‘Fidelio’. Happily swain Jacquino (Sam Furness) will have her back, an acceptance signalled by his nonchalant passing of a ciggie.