BBC music magazine, September 2011
Misha Donat

The real star of this performance of Beethoven's Fidelio is the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, in whose hands the music seems to glow from within. The playing is thrilling throughout, with Claudio Abbado caressing every detail of Beethoven's score, occasionally relaxing the tempo fractionally for a moment of heightened emotion, but never at the expense of the music's overall sweep and momentum. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir rises to the occasion, too, producing hushed singing of great beauty in the Act I prisoners' chorus, and an overwhelming sense of joy in the opera's final scene. Tenor Jonas Kaufmann is a commanding Florestan. His opening phrase as he lies in the depths of the dungeons is spine-tingling. However, soprano Nina Stemme's account of the role of Leonore is less of a success: her singing is unfocused, and it's hard to make out her words.

It's unfortunate, too, that the spoken dialogue has been so severely pruned, and that what remains of it has largely been rewritten. Joseph Sonnleithner's libretto is no literary masterpiece, but much of the essential dramatic information it imparts is missing here. And if nothing else, the dialogue provides welcome breathing space between the musical numbers, which here follow each other with undue haste. Nevertheless, with its orchestral contribution, Abbado's conducting and a generally strong cast, this is a Fidelio that has much to offer.


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