It was Abbado’s second Berlin Philharmonic symphony cycle
from 2001 which thrust him more or less unexpectedly into the
ranks of the immortals where Beethoven is concerned. And it was
seven years after that, in Reggio Emilia in 2008, that he
conducted his first Fidelio. Like Furtwängler in his
1953 studio recording, Abbado leads a viscerally charged
performance that flies to the very heart of the matter, and does
so in a version which, stripping away much of the spoken
dialogue, recreates Beethoven’s lofty Singspiel as musical
The recording derives from two semi-staged concert
performances, the audience happily sensed but not heard.
Technically the recording is first-rate but, then, you need no
sonic-stage trickery in the dungeon scene in a performance which
reveals as exactingly as this how Beethoven’s own orchestrations
are key. One of the many glories of this thrillingly articulated
Fidelio is the playing of the basses and lower strings,
sharp-featured and black as the pit of Acheron.
The revised spoken text is by stage director Tatjana Gürbaca.
In Act 1 she prunes and rewrites, minimising the text’s
domesticities; in Act 2 she preserves the melodrama but omits
most else. There is no breathless announcement from Jaquino
after the trumpet calls, no heart-stopping exchange between
Florestan and Leonore before “O namenlose Freude”. After
Pizarro’s entry, Act 2 becomes a choral cantata, albeit one
happily devoid of an inserted Leonore No 3.
The cast is mostly distinguished. If there has been a better
Marzelline on record than Rachel Harnisch, I have not heard her.
The same might be said of Christof Fischesser’s Rocco and Falk
Struckmann’s Pizarro; not that one forgets Gottlob Frick
(Klemperer’s Rocco and Furtwängler’s) or Hans Hotter,
Klemperer’s Pizarro on his unforgettable live Covent Garden
performance, a true theatre Fidelio, more interestingly
cast than the fabled but slightly more sedate EMI studio
Nina Stemme is very much the Leonore de nos jours,
less human than Jurinac live at Covent Garden but apt to the
newer version’s less domesticated vision. I could have
done without Jonas Kaufmann’s 12-second
crescendo on Florestan’s annunciatory
“Gott!” – René Kollo did something similar for Bernstein (DG,
10/78R) – more vocal stunt than human utterance and offering a
foretaste of vocal discolorations to come.
But that, in the end, is a trifle. This is
the best-conducted Fidelio since Furtwängler’s; a joy
to experience and a privilege to possess.