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Reviews

Medici Arts DVD 2007
09 Sep 2009

Fidelio from Glyndebourne and Medici Arts

Beethoven’s Fidelio is actually several works combined — a rescue opera in the grand style of the French revolution, a sentimental comedy focusing on mistaken identity, and a tragédie bourgeoise involving a husband, a wife, and their efforts to re-unite despite the actions of a relentless and implacable foe.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio

Carsten Stabell; Juha Uusitalo; Peter Seiffert; Waltraud Meier; Matti Salminen; Ildikó Raimondi; Rainer Trost; Javier Agulló; Nahuel di Pierro; Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana. Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana; Lorin Maazel, Music Director. Zubin Mehta

Medici Arts 2072498 [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

As if this were not enough, the opera is also Beethoven’s political testament, an attack on tyranny and injustice initiated (quite literally) with a trumpeted call to arms for the forces of truth and fraternity. Fortunately, this confused (and some might argue, irreconcilable) juxtaposition of genres contains some of the composer’s most beautiful music, and lovers of the work will undoubtedly welcome these two recently released recordings of Beethoven’s only completed opera. Both performances date from 2006: an audio recording of a Glyndebourne production featuring Anja Kampe, Torsten Kerl, and the London Philharmonic conducted by Mark Elder, and a filmed performance (celebrating the opening of the new Palau de les Arts of Valencia) with Waltraud Meier and Peter Seiffert accompanied by the Community Orchestra of Valencia under Zubin Metha.

Glyndebourne_Fidelio.gif

A comparison of these two productions — one a two CD set, and the other a DVD — while inherently unfair, is revealing. From the first notes of the overture it is obvious that the Gyndebourne production features the better orchestra and more inspired conductor: throughout the performance Elder’s direction of the LPO is a heavenly delight. This is not meant as a criticism of Maestro Mehta, however, who still manages to create some powerful moments while working with a much younger and less accomplished orchestral ensemble. It is particularly regrettable that, unlike the Valencia version, the Glyndebourne production does not include a performance of the third Leonore overture before the second act finale (a tradition, begun by Mahler in Vienna, which Metha wisely follows). The Gyndebourne recording also features the better chorus (prepared by Thomas Blunt) — “O welche Lust” is sung with excellent diction, wonderful dynamic contrast, and superior balance by the British troupe. Elder’s direction of the LPO in the performance of the Haydenesque introduction to the chorus is unforgettable.

Waltraud Meier is a dynamic and powerful presence as Leonore, and her considerable talents are fully utilized in the Valencia production. The contrast between the vocal styles of Meier and Kampe is nowhere more evident than in “Mir ist so wunderbar” — Meier’s tone is commanding and mature, whereas Kampe’s seems less so. This comparison holds throughout the performances: Meier is simply more convincing and at ease in the showcase arias and duets. Her performance of “O namenlose Freude!” with Seiffert is remarkable, and is undoubtedly the happy result of their frequent collaboration together in other roles (most recently in the Met production of Tristan). Seiffert is less compelling when Meier is not on stage, however. Torsten Kerl’s Florestan is more endearing: the youthful tenor’s rendition of “Gott, Welch Dunkel hier” is athletic and impassioned, and made all the more enjoyable by the special touches added by the London Philharmonic’s wonderful accompaniment.

In the secondary roles each performance offers some special moments. Matti Salminen is surpisingly comfortable in his role as Rocco, and even pulls off the notoriously awkward “Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben” aria beautifully. While the voice is at times strained and raspy, his expressive presence, particularly in ensemble numbers, elevates the performances of his fellow cast members. Brindley Sherratt’s Rocco is adequate in the Glydnebourne version, but little more. Lisa Milne is impressive as Marzelline, and displays an enthusiasm for her role which Ildikó Raimondi seems not to. The rising Finnish star, Juha Uusitalo is an impressive and menacing Don Pizarro (seeing him interact on stage with fellow-Finn Salminen in the “Es schlägt der Rache Stunde” is a real treat), and Rainer Trost is a far more convincing and lyric Jaquino than Andrew Kennedy, whose voice seems forced and pinched throughout much of the performance.

Pierluigi Pier’Alli’s direction of the Valencia version features some fascinating video effects. His creative use of the motif of chains and prison bars (projected onto the screen on stage) which leads to Florestan’s aria to open Act II is highly effective. Despite this, some may find his otherwise rather conservative approach to much of the rest of the work a trifle dull, and it is unfortunate that Deborah Warner’s edgy Glyndebourne production can only be seen in a few photos in the album notes. One welcomes Pier’Alli’s willingness to allow Meier an opportunity to explore the full range of her dramatic abilities, particularly during the prisoner’s chorus, where the soprano wanders the stage in a futile search for Florestan — an unforgettable effect which she brings off beautifully.

Because of the merits of each performance it is difficult to choose between these two recordings. The Glyndebourne version is dynamic and more aurally pleasing, but the added visual dimension of the Valencia recording is quite powerful. Certainly, newcomers to Fidelio will appreciate the DVD version more than a sound recording, even a relatively good one. I suspect that those who already know the opera well will enjoy both of these new issues — each performance brings out different facets of the work, an opera which, despite its many flaws, remains one of the most enjoyable products of Beethoven’s genius.

Donald R. Boomgaarden
Dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts
Loyola University New Orleans

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