was Beethoven's only opera and it never achieved great success
during his life-time. Its first performances were received
with ambivalence and not even a change of overture, name and
substantial revision could ignite any real box office enthusiasm.
By the early 20th century Fidelio's star
was on the rise. The priests of the Beethoven cult hailed
it as a work of genius, and suddenly this ugly duckling of
an opera graced the repertory of every serious opera house
you could care to name, from the Met in New York to Klemperer's
Kroll in Berlin. In more recent times Fidelio's star
has waned again. It is not frequently performed and most
lovers of Beethoven's music, who come to him through the symphonies,
the concertos, the string quartets or the piano sonatas, come
to Fidelio late, if at all.
will be tempted by this disc of highlights - tempted and richly
rewarded. Here they will discover over 70 minutes of wonderful
music. The opera is not Beethoven's greatest composition,
but it is certainly the work of a composer at the height of
his powers grappling with an unfamiliar medium. This generously
filled disc of highlights is an excellent introduction.
This disc of highlights
is drawn from Naxos's acclaimed complete recording of Fidelio
(Naxos 8.660070-71). The performances are superb. Halász
leads an exciting and dramatic account that is informed by
period performance practice but is not in thrall to it. His
tempi are generally swift but not rushed, imparting a lightness
to the score that is often lacking in other accounts. His
orchestra, which uses modern instruments, is small and responsive.
Only the brass has a tendency to roughness, but this is a
minor quibble. Generally the playing is very fine indeed.
The cast is also
excellent. Nielsen's Leonore is vulnerable and winning.
She is secure in her upper and lower registers and presents
the heroine as one with real grit. She is well matched by
Winbergh's characterful Florestan. He uses his warm, lyrical
tenor voice to create a Florestan of character and one worth
saving. The two principals are supported perfectly by the
rest of the cast. The veteran Kurt Moll is a tower of vocal
strength. Titus is suitably evil and Glashof benign. Lienbacher
sounds youthful, sweet and all a-flutter. In short, the whole
cast is superb, and well integrated. This is a proper ensemble
performance, rather than one which treats the opera as a star
The result is
a straightforward Fidelio which stands comparison with
the best. It has all the virtues of Mackerras's excellent
recording on Telarc with a better cast, and is every bit as
successful as Harnoncourt's recording on Warner Classics with
none of Harnoncourt's little eccentricities.
for an introduction to this opera need look no further. There
is no better disc of Fidelio highlights on the market
at any price. Those who already know and love this opera
will also find much to enjoy here. They will already have
their favourite performances - mine is Klemperer's big-boned
account on EMI with the matchless Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers
in the starring roles - but they should consider supplementing
their other recordings with this marvellous disc. Ideally,
though, this recording should be enjoyed in full. I would
recommend spending a few more pounds or dollars to buy the
complete recording from these forces. No matter which Fidelio
is your favourite, Halász and co have something to say
in this music and it is something worth hearing.
see also Review
by David Dunsmore