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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Leonore – Camilla Nylund
Florestan – Jonas Kaufmann
Don Fernando – Gunther Groissböck
Don Pizarro – Alfred Muff
Rocco – László Polgár
Marzelline – Elizabeth Rae Magnusson
Jaquino – Christoph Strehl
Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor)
Jürgen Flimm (stage director)
Recorded live at Zurich Opera House, 2004
Picture Format 16:9; PCM Stereo & DTS-HD MA 5.0; Region Code 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK Blu-ray 109224 [128 mins]

The film of this production has been released before, and a glance at the Blu-ray cover gives a clue that the main market they’re aiming for with this re-release is the Jonas Kaufmann fans. Kaufmann is, indeed, in very fine form here. He manages an impressive crescendo in his opening cry of “Gott!” and throughout he sings with the characteristic mahogany tone that has made his tenor such an in-demand asset recently. It's unfortunate that Jürgen Flimm has evidently instructed him to act with the utmost pathos throughout, as this seems to strip the character of any heroism until the final ensemble, but Kaufmann’s voice is still pretty much ideal for the role. I’m open to correction on this, but I’m fairly sure that Florestan is his most recorded role: as well as this film, he has recorded it on CD for Claudio Abbado at the Lucerne Festival, as well as the just-released 2015 Salzburg production on DVD (which I haven’t seen). There isn’t a great deal of difference between his interpretations for Harnoncourt and Abbado but that’s no bad thing, as his burnished grandeur is why people keep on coming back to him.

The finest singer in the production, however, is Camilla Nylund. Her bright soprano is on the right side of heroic while still remaining feminine, the perfect mix for the noble wife disguised as a boy. There is rich fullness in her singing that put me in mind of Sena Jurinac, commanding in Abscheulicher and Namenlose Freude, yet meltingly tender in the earlier ensembles. She’s one of the finest Leonores I’ve seen on film. Next to her, László Polgár makes for a lyrical, warm Rocco, while Gunther Groissböck puts in an early start turn as Don Fernando. Elizabeth Rae Magnusson and Christoph Strehl are both sweet-voiced and well matched. Only Alfred Muff is rather shouty and gravelly as Pizarro.

The most complete star of the production, however, is Harnoncourt. I am by no means a total admirer of his, but his interpretation here sees him at his best. The opening chords of the overture bristle with excitement and dramatic tension; the ensuing string passage is pregnant with anticipation, and he makes a lot out of those repeated timpani strikes to accentuate dramatic effect. His dramatic pacing of the big moments feels just right, and the ensembles move with great style, culminating in a radiant (if slightly too slow) account of the Act 2 finale. He can still be a little tricksy in places: the Namenlose Freude duet is much too slow, for example. But on the whole this sees him at his best.

Jürgen Flimm’s production is take-it-or-leave-it. The sets are minimalist, but the costumes suggest a Biedermeier setting contemporary with the opera’s composition. The acting is rather stark, however, and, more seriously, he lights the stage with a pale blue film that looks very cold and which even the appearance of the sun behind Don Fernando doesn’t quite lift. The picture quality if perfectly fine, but nothing special for a Blu-ray, and the surround sound is very forward focused, with very little for the rear speakers to do, which is a missed opportunity.

For Harnoncourt fans, this makes a worthy alternative to his Teldec CD of the opera starring Peter Seiffert and Charlotte Margiono. However, the various fussinesses mean it isn’t a top choice. For me, that he long been Leonard Bernstein’s 1978 Vienna production, starring Rene Kollo and Gundula Janowitz, and using Otto Schenk’s production, still being employed by that theatre today. Watch the DVD and you’ll see why.

Simon Thompson



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