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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio (1814)
Eva Marton (soprano) Leonore; James King (tenor) Florestan; Aage Haugland (bass) Rocco; Theo Adam (bass) Don Pizarro; Lillian Watson (soprano) Marzelline; Thomas Moser (tenor) Jacquino; Tom Krause (bass-baritone) Don Fernando; Horst Hiestermann (tenor) First Prisoner; Kurt Rydl (bass) Second Prisoner
Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel.
rec. live, Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg, August 5th 1983.
ORFEO C908152I [73:34 + 64:46]

Certainly many listeners will be familiar with Maazel’s 1963 Decca Fidelio, featuring Nilsson and James McCracken and sharing with the current set Tom Krause (albeit in a different role, there as Pizarro) and the Vienna Philharmonic. At the time of the present recording (1983), Maazel was director of the Vienna State Opera (his brief tenure there was 1982 to 1984).

Right from the start, the Vienna Philharmonic asserts its credentials. The ensemble is spot on (a Maazel core trait) and there is a real sense of theatre. Listen to the precision of the strings in Rocco’s money aria (”Hat man nicht auch Gold daneben”) for a superb example of Vienna discipline at its finest. The opening duet between Marzelline and Jacquino is strongly done: preferable, in fact, to Klemperer’s famed studio set for HMV/EMI. Maazel finds himself most at home in the ensembles, with the great Act 1 Quartet, “Mir ist so wunderbar” one of the set’s high points; the act I finale, too, is magnificently judged. Yet time and time again Maazel lets things sag, often at random moments where there is no need or rational explanation. As early as the Act 1 Trio (“Gut, Söhnchen, gut”) there is a feeling that Maazel is letting the tension drop.

Maazel includes Leonore Overture No. 3 as an insert between the second act’s two scenes (so, just before the finale to the opera begins). It is a lovely interpretation, and gets up a proper head of steam, with an electrifying coda.

There is no studio recording of Eva Marton’s Leonore, so on that basis alone this set has historic value. The rock-solid low strings that open up “Abscheulicher” can only begin to prepare us for Marton’s grim determination and her voice that, surely, would cut crystal. Yet it is not uncomfortable to listen to; rather, it conveys Leonore’s character; as does the beautiful softening Marton is capable of. In just over eight minutes, Marton transports the performance onto a new plane; the climactic moments find her in full cry, yet her interval jumps remain perfectly clean. That one aria is an absolute masterclass (if only the horn section had been in more fiery form). The Orfeo set retains applause, and the audience’s enthusiastic reaction is a perfect reflection of the performance itself. Right from her first entrance, Marton sounds like she could sing until her head falls off; an impression retained throughout the opera, as it transpires. She is grimly determined in the “digging” duet in the second act (superbly complemented by the rock-steady Haugland); at the other end of the spectrum, she finds supreme tenderness in the Trio “Euch werde Lohn in besser’n Welten”. And neither does she fail to impress in the dramatic reveal at “Töt’ erst sein Weib”. Interesting, also, that her voice works so well with Watson’s Marzelline, something we get to fully appreciate in the closing moments of the opera.

Her Florestan is James King. Those au fait with King’s contribution to the Haitink/Concertgebouw Das Lied von der Erde (Mahler) will be in no doubt as to the strength of his voice. His initial cry is up there with Jon Vickers in the famous Klemperer EMI studio set; King’s sense of the lyric in Beethoven’s aria is more acute however. He himself prepares with way for the liquid clarinet legato that introduces “In des Lebens Frühlingstagen”. King’s voice has a believable sense of strain and desperation in the latter stages of his scena (when he sings of the “angelic” Leonore and freedom). The blaring horns of the introduction speak of the dark and dank, angst-laden environment.

Together, Marton and King prove a formidable pairing, as “O namenlose Freude” proves. It is not without its slips, wither in ensemble or in culminating pitches, but it is certainly, and undeniably, of the theatre.

Our Pizarro is none other than the great Theo Adam, who had appeared in vivid close-up in just this role on DVD (review, a Hamburg production conducted by Leopold Ludwig on Arthaus). He is imposing without the full-screen face; his tone is real, with an edge that conveys the monodimensionalism of his character here. Most of the duet with Aage Haugland’s Rocco that immediately precedes Leonore’s “Abscheulicher” is beautifully done, with blaring punctuating brass absolutely of the theatre; but then there is a Maazel sag that takes away the adrenalin, so that the restatement of that brass gesture loses all of its force. Of course it is his great aria “Er sterbe!” that is when his evil shines, and shine it does.

Perhaps Tom Krause turns out as one of the weaker cast members, rather stiff in delivery and monochrome of voice.

The chorus is well trained, its Act 1 movement into the light convincing and at times radiant while the triumphalism of the Act 2 finale is brilliantly conveyed. In the final ensemble Leonore’s “Du prüfest” is simply gorgeous and Maazel really keeps the final moments together – including chorus – in a way rarely heard even in the studio never mind in the opera house. The recording presents the sound stage very well here and elsewhere; it also picks up a fair amount of stage noise along the way.

Amazingly, Fidelio was not performed at Salzburg after this very performance for another 13 years. Each act slots nicely onto a single disc and there are fine notes tracing the history of the opera at Salzburg by Gottfried Kraus. A fascinating release if not one that will dislodge those treasured studio recordings – be your choice Klemperer or Karajan, Solti or Abbado. Worth investigating.

Colin Clarke



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