Jonas Kaufmann’s first note alone is a good reason to
buy this new recording of Beethoven’s stirring opera. The note
arrives early in Act II, when the hero Florestan, a political
prisoner, is introduced chained in his underground dungeon.
“Gott!” the wonder German tenor sings, unaccompanied, in a
remarkably piercing and forceful crescendo, the musical
equivalent of a widening chink of light suddenly thrown into the
prisoner’s dank gloom. The effect makes your jaw drop, your
pulse pause, your hairs stand on end.
before and after Kaufmann’s eruption isn’t for the dustbin,
either. From the start there’s an impressive depth and
glow about the music-making in this live Fidelio, taken from the
two concert performances at the Lucerne Festival last August.
Claudio Abbado conducts with magisterial but selfless
understanding. In the overture alone (Beethoven’s punchy fourth
version is used) you feel electricity and humanity in every
jabbing rhythm and lyrically sculptured phrase; while the tone
of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, horns and woodwinds
especially, is always lustrous. There’s beauty too in the
confident ease of some of Abbado’s tempos: the great Act I
quartet, Mir ist so wunderbar, spreads before us like a banquet
Kaufmann’s colleagues don’t make
the jaw drop as much or range so thrillingly between despair and
joy. But none proves a blot on the landscape. Nina
Stemme was making her role debut as Leonora, Florestan’s
disguised wife; she sings with much thought and character,
though for touching beauty in the aria Komm, Hoffnung she’s
beaten by the orchestra’s horns. Falk Struckmann, as the prison
governor Pizarro, avoids being a caricature baddie; while
Christof Fischesser’s Rocco pointedly suggests the jailer’s cold
fears and warmer sympathies. And I mustn’t forget the Arnold
Schoenberg Choir, so softly moving as the prisoners in Act I,
briefly tasting fresh air.
Celebrating freedom’s victory
over tyranny, Fidelio always carries a contemporary resonance.
It’s the opera that Syria and Libya desperately need. Lucerne’s
concerts, hastily semi-staged by Tatjana Gürbaca, suggested
modern times by draping singers with the ominous bulk of
military greatcoats, draped as if hung out to dry. But we’re
better off absorbing this performance, joyous and thrilling,
just with our ears.