Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 01, 2011
Robert Croan
Beethoven 'Fidelio' Conducted by Claudio Abbado (Decca)

Beethoven's "Fidelio" is no ordinary opera. This tale of a heroic woman, Leonore, who, disguised as a man ("Fidelio"), works as a jailor's assistant in order to free her unjustly imprisoned husband, is a timeless monument to those who fight tyranny and oppression. "Fidelio" requires a conductor with a strong concept, along with singers who can negotiate Beethoven's near-superhuman demands. This live performance from the 2010 Lucerne Festival fills the bill in just about every way, starting at the top with conductor Claudio Abbado, whose command of fortitude and drama is evident in the first bars of the Overture, and builds with the unfolding of the plot. He underpins the high-powered vocalism of his A-level cast with multi-layered instrumental nuance, and makes the little throwaway march that introduces the villain Pizarro into a highlight not to be missed.

His cast is about as good as might be assembled in this generation. Nina Stemme's sumptuous soprano inhabits the title role with gorgeous sound that puts meaning into every word and phrase. She is matched by the handsome-sounding Florestan of supertenor Jonas Kaufmann, whose spectacular crescendo from a wisp of sound to a fortissimo on his opening word of invocation (Gott!") makes it hard to believe ones ears. His aria that follows is heartbreaking, and in the grueling hallucinatory "freedom" section, right on the mark with stamina and ring. The remainder of the cast is similarly exemplary, and the finale -- an ode to joy not unlike that in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- exhilarating to the very last note.


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