Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio - Opera in two acts (1804-05, rev. 1814) [70:44]
Heinrich Pflanzl - Don Fernando, minister
Josef Herrmann - Don Pizarro, governor of state prison
Bernd Aldenhoff - Don Florestan, a prisoner
Christel Goltz - Leonore, his wife
Gottlob Frick - Rocco, chief jailer
Elfriede Trötschel - Marzelline, his daughter
Erich Zimmermann - Jaquino, assistant jailer
Horst Weber - first prisoner
Werner Faulhaber - second prisoner
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden, Sinfoniechor Dresden,
Chor der Staatlichen Akademie für Musik und Theater/Ernst Hintze
Staatskapelle Dresden/Joseph Keilberth
rec. live, 22 September 1948, Large House of the Staatstheater, Dresden, Germany
Surviving sections of original radio broadcast
No libretto included
HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH10033 [70:44 + DVD]
This is the first authorised issue of the broadcast of Fidelio given at the commemorative opening of the Large House of the Staatstheater, Dresden on 22 September 1948. The complete performance did not survive in its entirety. What we have here are the extant sections of original radio broadcast: some seventy minutes of music.
Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio is almost always described as a stirring ode to freedom; the triumph of good over evil. Whilst probably not featuring in many lists of ten best loved operas it is a staple of the opera houses of the world and remains much admired. I have noticed that two or three popular extracts are frequently featured in Recorded Music Society programmes.
Fidelio is considered to be highly problematic. Beethoven scholar George Alexander Fischer in his work ‘Beethoven, A Character Study Together With Wagner’s Indebtedness To Beethoven’ (1905) provided the following viewpoint, “Musically, it is a work of surpassing beauty; but there is a dissonance between music and libretto which gives the impression of something lacking; there is not the harmony which we expect in a work of this kind. Wagner has taught us better on these points. The music of Fidelio has force and grandeur; some of it has a sensuous beauty that reminds us of Mozart at his best. Had Beethoven's choice fallen to a better libretto, the result might have been an altogether better opera.” Eminent music writer David Ewen in ‘The Complete Book of Classical Music’(Robert Hale, London, 1965) explains that “None of Beethoven’s scores cost him as much effort and grief, both in conception and production. Beethoven was essentially an instrumental composer. He found it difficult to adjust his musical thinking to the requirements of the stage.”
Emanuel Schikaneder, the manager of the Theatre-an-der-Wien, Vienna in 1803 commissioned Beethoven to write an opera. It was in 1804 when Beethoven found the time to start work. The German libretto is the Josef Sonnleithner and Friedrich Treitschke adaptation of the text from Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s Léonore, ou l’amour conjugal. Beethoven laboured hard on the score right up to its production in November 1805. Beethoven had described Fidelio as, “a child of sorrow” claiming that it had caused him, “more birth pains than any other.”
The opera was first produced in a three act version under the title Leonore in Vienna’s Theater-an-der-Wien in November 1805. Owing to the military occupation of Vienna by Napoleon’s forces it was not surprising that the first audiences were disappointing in number. Following the première Beethoven revised the opera shortening it into two acts also writing a new overture, which is now known as Leonore Overture No. 3. In this revised form it was first performed in March and April 1806 to greater acclaim. In 1814 he revised the opera once again and work on the libretto was undertaken by Georg Friedrich Treitschke. This version was first performed in Vienna’s Kärtnertor Theater in May 1814 under the title Fidelio. Beethoven was never satisfied with the opera’s overture and it ended up going through four versions. The Leonore No. 3 is considered by many to be the finest overture. For the opera’s revival in 1814 Beethoven wrote the shorter Fidelio overture which Joseph Keilberth uses on this Hänssler Profil release.
Originally built in 1841 by architect Gottfried Semper the Semper Opera House burned down in 1869. The rebuilt house was designed by Manfred Semper and opened in 1878. It became the home of the Dresden State Opera but was destroyed on Friday 13 February 1945 by Allied bombers. Within a few days all of Dresden’s theatres were reduced to ruins. A tremendous effort from hundreds of Dresden residents cleared away countless tons of rubble. From December 1945 Dresden City Council was given the responsibility of drawing up plans to construct a new state theatre with Emil Leibold appointed as architect.
On 22 September 1948 the newly built Dresden Staatstheater was opened as the Großes Haus des Staatstheater; following the rebuilding of the Semperoper in 1985, the Großes Haus des Staatstheater was renamed as the Schauspielhaus. To celebrate the opening of the Staatstheater Fidelio was staged in a production by stage manager and director Heinz Arnold. Joseph Keilberth conducted the Chor der Staatsoper, Sinfoniechor Dresden, Chor der Staatlichen Akademie für Musik und Theater with the Staatskapelle Dresden. The production was broadcast live by the Dresden radio station Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk. However, not all of the archive tape of the radio transmission has survived as it seems that the tape was cut up by radio editors to play individual scenes and arias. Some of the missing material, most notably the overture, was found and put back together. Unfortunately this recording on Hänssler’s Profil does not include the famous Prisoners’ Chorus ‘O Welche Lust!; Marzelline’s aria, O wär ich schon mit dir vereint and Leonora’s aria Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin.
In a most impressive account Keilberth assembled a cast of performers high on commitment and understanding. The orchestral playing is first class throughout with an especially exciting rendition of the chosen Fidelio overture. Prisoner Don Florestan is played by Bernd Aldenhoff a native of the city of Duisburg. Aldenhoff is robust and assured in the role. As Leonore Florestan’s wife the Dortmund soprano Christel Goltz excels with her bright and attractive girlish tones. Dresden-born soprano Elfriede Trötschel takes the role as Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter, with considerable assurance. Trötschel’s resilient and fluid voice makes a nice contrast to Leonore. As Don Pizarro the governor of state prison, Darmstadt baritone Josef Herrmann displays a dramatically expressive voice. With clear diction and robust projection Herrmann convincingly reveals Pizarro’s threatening character to chilling effect. Salzburg-born Heinrich Pflanzl, as the minister Don Fernando is a rich and rock-steady bass.
The celebrated quartet of Rocco, Jaquino, Marzelline and Leonore “Mir ist so wunderbar” is one of the most remarkable ensemble numbers in the opera. Taken at a relaxed pace the performance from the quartet is deeply affecting. In the first of his two solo arias Bernd Aldenhoff as Florestan chained to the wall of his cell performs a gloom-ridden soliloquy about his sad fate with “Gott! Welch Dunkel hier.” In the second aria, Florestan, lamenting his fate recalls happier times with his beloved Leonore “In des Lebens Fruhlingstagen.” Aldenhoff is a striking and imposing Florestan and right from his opening words “Gott! (Oh God!) Aldenhoff convincingly communicates the pathos and inner torment of the role.
Leonore and Florestan sing with joy at their reunion “O namenlose Freude!” The heroes Aldenhoff and Goltz are in fine voice. With impressive presence their unforced manner enables them convincingly to convey their euphoria. Sadly the prisoners’ chorus “O Welche Lust!” is not included. However, I enjoyed the chorus of prisoners and townsfolk in the town square hailing the Minister “Heil sei dem Tag!” Coached by chorus master Ernst Hintze the Chor der Staatsoper, Sinfoniechor Dresden and Chor der Staatlichen Akademie für Musik und Theater deserve considerable praise for their satisfying and secure contribution.
For those looking for recommendable accounts of the complete Fidelio there are two classic versions. Firstly from Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded at the 1950 Salzburg Festival with Julius Patzak and Kirsten Flagstad on EMI mono 7 64496-2. Secondly from Klemperer and the Philharmonia, recorded at the 1962 Kingsway Hall with John Vickers and Christa Ludwig on EMI ‘Great Recordings of the Century’ 5 67364-2. Of the modern digital accounts I admire the dramatic and exciting 1999 Berlin performance from Daniel Barenboim with the Chor der Staatsoper Dresden, Sinfoniechor Dresden, Chor der Staatlichen Akademie für Musik und Theater and the Berlin Staatskapelle on Warner Classics 3984 25249-2. The stars are Plácido Domingo as Don Florestan and Waltraud Meier as Leonore with Soile Isokoski, Werner Güra and René Pape in the supporting roles. As a bonus Barenboim includes all four overtures on the set.
Accompanying this Hänssler Profil set is a one hundred and eighty page booklet. Remarkable for its large number of photographs and copious information this is complete with an English translation. Disappointingly no libretto is provided. Included in the box is a fifty-four minute documentary DVD titled “Mir ist so wunderbar!”- Das Gross Haus. Narrated in German I wasn’t able to find any English subtitles. I found the flimsy cardboard sleeve far too light for the substantial contents.
Defying its sixty-six years the sound quality of Keilberth’s Fidelio is certainly remarkable for its age. As good as Keilberth’s performance is, why would anyone want a version of Fidelio with several of the most famous highlights missing?
Defying its sixty-six years the sound quality of Keilberth’s Fidelio is certainly remarkable for its age.