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.

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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