Beethoven’s only opera has about it the whiff of a
Shakespearean suspension of disbelief. Cross-dressing, wrongful
imprisonment and gargantuan villainy occupy much of its
narrative, and the resoundingly triumphant,
wrapped-up-rather-nicely-thank-you ending is typical of its
period. So what is it that makes it a success? And how does a
modern troupe of performers approach it? Well, both answers
inform one another. Its ridiculousness, like so many operatic
plots, is so gleefully far-fetched that the libretto actually
makes perfect dramatic sense, and the gusto required to
authenticate it is what makes it work as a performance.
Gusto is something that this recording certainly doesn’t lack.
Under Claudio Abbado’s assured direction, the Mahler Chamber and
Lucerne Festival orchestras derive a fantastic amount of energy.
They’re dainty when dealing with the mischievous opening scenes,
battering as they move through the second act and, when the plot
requires, they’re emotionally as wrought as anything Beethoven
ever dreamt up. Nina Stemme in particular carries a huge amount
of the work on her shoulders and she manages to imbue her
Fidelio/Leonore role with the requisite disguised anguish.
High praise also must go to the spellbinding ensemble work.
The prisoners’ cautious joy in O welche Lust, in freier Luft den
Atem leicht zu heben! is beautifully measured, and the climactic
Finale in the second act sees their joy spill over unbidden.
Jonas Kaufmann also impresses, most of all in his
lachrymose opening to the second act. His swelling crescendo
that begins Gott! Welt Dunkel hier is impeccably delivered and
surprisingly hammy, but it works perfectly.
in part to the relative infrequency of recordings of Fidelio,
this is one in particular to be cherished. Discussion is rife as
to which is the most successful, and this effort will certainly
be the subject of spirited scrutiny. In the end, though, it’s a
matter of how successfully the players have evoked what may have
been in the composer’s mind – suggesting that this could be a
winning recording. All the elements combine effectively to
highlight what an emotional, baffling and ridiculous composer
Beethoven could be at times, the whole proving to be an
engaging, lasting experience.