Performers: Elisabeth Söderström/ Curt Appelgren /Elizabeth Gale / Robert Allman / Anton de Ridder /Michael Langdon /Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1979 /London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink, cond.
Director: Peter Hall
Studio: Arthaus Musik (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 full screen color
Audio: PCM stereo, sung in German
Length: 120 minutes
A lot can be achieved on a minuscule stage that is equipped with good lighting and attractive sets, as this production of Beethoven’s only operatic work attests. Helping it along further are Haitink’s grand overtures and the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s excellent percussionists. This recording was made for British television and lends itself to that purpose quite nicely.
A tale of heroic rescue by a loving wife, Fidelio was written when Beethoven was starting to go deaf. To remedy this handicap, the composer ingeniously inserted a piece of wood into his piano so that he could feel the music’s vibrations. Apparently this device worked, since the music has some lovely Mozartean moments. This recording has good production values but is tamely performed. Missing is any sense of danger or tension, an element essential to the drama. The “blind, tempestuous rage” that Leonore ascribes to Don Pizarro, the villain of the story (sung by Robert Allman), is nowhere to be seen. By contrast, Söderström’s acting is quite effective and, coupled with her caramel tone, compensates for her thin voice. Elizabeth Gale’s sweet, girlish soprano (she sings Marzelline) is delicate and appealing. Curt Appelgren, despite his vigorous bass-baritone, looks perpetually perplexed. Anton de Ridder as Florestan sports a Lincolnesque profile and is appropriately heroic. The stereo sound is excellent, the camera work displays some artistic touches, and the lighting creates interesting chiaroscuro effects.
– Dalia Geffen