Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Ben Heppner, Deborah Voigt, Matthias Hölle, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz, Michael Schade, Thomas Quasthoff, Günter von Kannen; Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68344 2
Colin Davis’s account of this most glorious score is inspired. It’s not a showy interpretation: he doesn’t manipulate the tempi or use frenetic speeds; the sforzandi aren’t overemphasised. It is just beautifully articulated, superbly detailed and outstandingly well performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Leonore No. 2 Overture is appended, but with playing this good, Leonore No. 3 could happily have been interpolated before the Act II finale. Davis sticks to the score, however.


Unfortunately the greatness of this performance doesn’t quite extend to the singing. Technically none of the cast is at fault, but there is a sense that the casting was wrong: too many weighty Wagnerian voices, and a Leonore (Deborah Voigt) so voluptuously feminine she could never have passed as a boy. The result is a Fidelio that sounds wonderful but lacks the crucial human element. That said, Ben Heppner is a fine, heroic Florestan in the Windgassen–Vickers mould; and Matthias Hölle makes a sympathetic Rocco; but Günter von Kannen’s Don Pizarro scarcely communicates menace, let alone evil. Otherwise, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz is a warm and winning Marzelline and Thomas Quasthoff a moving, noble Don Fernando. Despite the majority of native German speakers among the singers, the spoken dialogue is awkward. And the stage effects – shuffling papers, echoing footsteps – are distracting rather than atmospheric. Claire Wrathall