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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio (1814)
Florestan – Christian Elsner (tenor)
Leonore (Fidelio) – Lise Davidsen (soprano)
Rocco – Georg Zeppenfeld (bass)
Marzelline – Christina Landshamer (soprano)
Jaquino – Cornel Frey (tenor)
Don Pizarro – Johannes Martin Kranzle (baritone)
Don Fernando – Gunther Groissbock (bass-baritone)
First prisoner – Aaron Pegram (tenor)
Second prisoner – Choo Deng (bass)
Sachsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden, Male Voices of MDR-Rundfunkchor
Dresdner Philharmonie/Marek Janowski
rec. June & November 2020, Kulturpalast Dresden, Germany
Libretto with English translation
PENTATONE PTC5186880 SACD [66:10 + 43:09]

First impressions here are that Janowski directs a briskly efficient, spick and span overture which will offend no-one except the listener actually seeking an identifiable interpretative stance where the conductor has points he wants to make and something to say about the music. The ensuing duet between Marzelline and Jaquino is similarly perfectly capable and competent - without a hint of the charm and individuality of previous couples for Toscanini or Fürtwangler. Christina Landshamer has one of those ubiquitous modern voices with a slightly too obtrusive, “applied” vibrato rather than one which proceeds from the natural pulse of the voice itself. Cornel Frey has, similarly, an all-purpose, constricted little tenor of limited appeal. Georg Zeppenfeld is fine, as long as you want a Rocco of the lighter kind without any of the treacly depths of Frick, Crass or Moll.

The “wunderbar” quartet is slow but to my ears, not rapt – just slow, without any inner pulse. This typifies my response to this recording as a whole; having listened to so many previous accounts, I find this by comparison utterly devoid of atmosphere or magic - and as much of that is down to Janowski’s flat, uninspired conducting as to the workaday singing. The same lack of soul applies to the Prisoners’ Chorus, which here goes for nothing, complete with another undistinguished tenor and a Second Prisoner who is no more a “bass” than the First. The first piece of real tension and excitement does not arise until well into the second Act with the brief but thrilling “Es schlägt der Rache Stunde”; everything picks up from there but it’s too late in the day.

Clearly the main draw here is the presence of the rising Norwegian star Lise Davidsen. While acknowledging her manifest gifts, I have been less enraptured than other MusicWeb reviewers by her previous recordings and have indicated areas in her vocal technique which give me concern for future developments (review; review). I hear the same faults and virtues here and will confess that I simply do not respond viscerally to her voice as I do to Ludwig, Rysanek or even Martha Mödl who, for all her technical faults, was a real stage animal and stirs the listener every time she opens her mouth. Davidsen has a big, burnished tone which occasionally turns fluttery and I still dislike the way she swells individual notes in phrases; however, she makes a wonderful job of much of “Abscheulicher!”, especially the huge top Bs on “erreichen” and the final phrase, but as in her recitals, her use of text isn’t especially enlightening. She rarely moves me; if I want to know how Leonore feels, I look elsewhere.

I fear that Christian Elsner’s tenor has deteriorated since his recording of the Wagner arrangement of Gluck’s Iphigenia in Aulis eight years ago. Its basic quality is now throttled and bottled with a heavy falsetto bias for top notes and little of the heft which marks out the true Heldentenor that he looked to become; he has his work cut out just to negotiate the notes and there isn’t much left for subtleties, especially as he frequently sounds as if he is only just preventing cracking by becoming increasingly throaty. Phrases such as “Und die Ketten sind mein Lohn” are embarrassingly unsteady and he frequently turns flat as he is unable to maintain tone and resonance. His contribution to “O namenlose Freude!” is just pitiful, he is so outshone and overpowered by Davidsen.

Apart from Davidsen’s moments of splendour, the exceptions to the lack of vocal quality here lie in two other singers: the incisive baritone Johannes Martin Kranzle, who makes Pizarro a truly nasty piece of work, delivering his speech with bite and venom and singing with ringing confidence; this is the best Pizarro since DFD and Walter Berry decades before. The other is Gunther Groissbock, whose lean, dark bass is similarly impressive; unfortunately, nobody makes a decision on which Fidelio to buy based on the portrayals of Pizarro and Don Fernando.

It is an advantage here that the singers speak their own dialogue rather than having to yield to ill-matching actors. The engineered sound is clinical, with a strange, disembodied quality which is surely sometimes deliberately intensified by the engineers, as in Davidsen’s concluding top B which I mention above. The digipack contains a handsome booklet with photographs, full, helpful notes in which Steffan Georgi traces the work’s genesis and provides character sketches, and the German text with an English translation. There is plenty of space on the second CD for the Leonore overture, but we are denied it; I wonder why.

There is a prevailing blandness to this recording, in Janowski’s unvarying beat, singing either intermittently merely efficient or downright poor and the laboratory sound which for me kills the opera stone dead; I frequently find my attention wandering.

Ralph Moore
Previous review: Göran Forsling

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