Beethoven: Fidelio (complete opera), Blu-ray (2010)

by | May 25, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Beethoven: Fidelio (complete opera), Blu-ray (2010)

Conductor: Bernard Haitink

Performers: Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera; Cast = Leonora/Fidelio: Melanie Diener/ Florestan: Roberto Sacca/ Don Fernando: Kresimir Strazanac/ Don Pizarro: Lucio Gallo/ Rocco: Alfred Muff/ Marzelline: Sandra Trattnigg/ Jaquino: Christoph Strehl
Stage director: Katharina Thalbach
Studio: Opus Arte

[Distrib. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD Color
Audio: PCM Stereo or DTS 5.0 Surround Sound
Subtitles: English  (Opera only), French, German, Spanish

Extras: Illustrated synopsis, Cast gallery
Length: 150 minutes

Rating: ***

I had hoped for more here; Bernard Haitink has certainly produced as many brilliant recordings and operas as any other modern conductor, and has done a wonderful 1991 recording of Fidelio for Philips and a video Glyndebourne production in 2006 that was well received. That one did not include the Leonore Overture No. 3, but apparently he rethought Mahler’s little touch-up and has included it in this version. I guess he needed something to liven things up, for this Fidelio really slumps.

It is one of those instances where putting one’s finger on the problem is hard to do, but there is just no sense of urgency, inspiration, or continuity of action. Mind you, even though Beethoven’s third go at the thing—10 years after the first performances—finally proved successful, this is not an easy opera to sell even though it is regarded as one of the great ones; acting must be convincing, music must be imbued with a sense of determined purpose, and the stage setting must be something else aside from depressing unless the singing is so staggering that our minds are distracted. This scenery is typically dungeonesque with little variety, costumes such that various periods are used for symbolical reasons (Pizarro looks like Snidely Whiplash in a white suit with a hat that rivals Jim Carrey in The Mask)

Haitink’s pacing is fine, but the whole lacks energy, dynamic resoluteness or continuity. The orchestra plays well but not phenomenally. The singing is not exceptional, though professionally competent. Melanie Diener in the title role is expressionless most of the time, and certainly does not come across with the requisite passion needed to pull off her gender-switch in order to free Florestan. She sings a little weakly, and it seems that the orchestra wants to drown her out in places. Florestan is okay; Sacca’s voice fits the part well, and he actually is believable in his prison scenes. Alfred Muff’s Rocco lacks passion—he could care less when trying to help Leonore free Florestan. Christoph Strehl livens things up with a very insistent Jaquino, while the Marzelline of Sandra Trattnigg is light and airy, making the best of one of the most undeveloped and weak plot lines—to say nothing of believability—in the opera. Gallo’s Pizarro is exceptional, despite the ridiculous outfit, and he is persuasively evil in his intensions, making the music match the moment. Fernando impresses but little.

There are some curiously token moments as well, as when Leonore, announcing to Pizarro that she is a woman, does so not by letting down her hair but instead yanking both sides of her shirt open a la Demi Moore in Striptease, revealing her naked breasts. I laughed out loud when it happened, so silly does it look, the only “R” rated second in a “PG” production—just had to get that flesh in there somehow!

The sound is somewhat muffled for a Blu-ray disc, and the timpani overrides all other considerations. Opus Arte blows it by not offering the highest-res images; a bad decision I hope they will rectify in future releases. The Zurich opera is a fine and noted company, so I only assume that this was a chink in the otherwise excellent armor. For a terrific Beethoven video for the ages, you can’t go wrong with Bernstein. If you still want Haitink, I would go with his earlier ArtHaus release.

— Steven Ritter    

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