Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Fidelio
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer, Richard Margison, Robert Lloyd, Rebecca Evans, Pavlo Hunka, Christopher Purves; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir; Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3123(2)
There’s a good case to be made for presenting German-language opera in English, particularly since it traditionally replaces recitative with spoken dialogue. Fidelio actually contains both speech and recitative, as well as a famous example of a melodrama – ie speech accompanied by music – in the scene in which Leonora finds herself having to help dig a grave for her husband, who is about to be murdered by the prison governor, Don Pizzaro. This new recording features David Pountney’s skilful translation, and the dialogue – unfortunately severely abridged – is presented with admirable simplicity and naturalness.

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The cast is a strong one, with commanding performances from Christine Brewer and Robert Lloyd, as Leonora and the jailer Rocco, and a vivacious Marzellina from Rebecca Evans. Only Pavlo Hunka’s distinctly unmenacing Pizzaro disappoints. As the imprisoned Florestan, Richard Margison is warmly lyrical. His opening exclamation of ‘God! The darkest hours’ (curious to find Pountney rendering ‘Gott! welch’ Dunkel hier’ so freely, in place of the obvious ‘God! What darkness here’) is the sound of a man weakened by hunger and exhaustion – very different from Jon Vickers’s powerful cry of despair on the famous Klemperer recording. Both approaches are valid, though few singers have ever matched the resplendence of Vickers’s voice in the role.

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The Klemperer performance, with further splendid contributions from Chista Ludwig, Walter Berry and Gottlob Frick, is a uniquely moving document. But if you want the opera in English this new version, sympathetically and intelligently conducted by David Parry, is impressive. Misha Donat