Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Gwyneth Jones, James King, Martti Talvela, Theo Adam; Leipzig Radio Choir, Dresden Opera Chorus, Dresden Staatskapelle/Karl Böhm
CATALOGUE NO: 445 448-2 ADD Reissue
Misogynists prepare to gloat approvingly and feminists to tut accusingly before reading the interview printed in the booklet accompanying this eagerly awaited Fidelio from Nikolaus Harnoncourt, for whom the opera celebrates the ‘fact that a loving wife is prepared to do anything for her husband’. Better still, listen without prejudice, for this rather exclusive view is not reflected in the musical interpretation, which is as thoughtful, dramatic and integrated as one might expect.


Harnoncourt treats Fidelio as the apotheosis of Classical opera, shaping each number with his usual ear for detail and teasing out its character with a perceptive understanding of its place in the drama. Not one to take the easy way out, he banishes the often interpolated Leonore No. 2 to outer darkness, preparing for the explosion of light at the beginning of the final scene with a laid-back ‘O namenlose Freude!’ which oozes an inner, almost Tristanesque ecstasy, sung here with just the right degree of radiance and intimacy by the excellent Peter Seiffert and Charlotte Margiono. With the exception of a vinegary Pizarro from Leiferkus, Harnoncourt is well supported by his remaining singers.


Böhm’s 1969 account, boldly sung and conducted, makes a strong case for Fidelio as proto-Wagnerian music-drama, a legitimate, bracing alternative to the Harnoncourt. Neither offers the last word on Fidelio, but both offer as involving an experience as any, the Klemperer and Furtwängler versions included. Antony Bye