Beethoven: Fidelio (1805 version)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Camilla Nylund, Kurt Streit, Peter Rose, Gerd Grochowski, Brigitte Geller, Dietmar Kerschbaum, Ralf Lukas, Thomas Ebenstein, Markus Raab, Martin Schwab (narrator); Arnold Schoenberg Choir; ORF Radio SO, Vienna/Bertrand de Billy


This is by no means the first recording of Beethoven’s 1805 Fidelio: John Eliot Gardiner
notably created a version based on Beethoven’s original thoughts, but incorporated changes from later editions. But this recording, made from a live performance in the opera’s birthplace, the Theater an der Wien, is uncompromising.

No moving references to Sonnenlicht by the prisoners at the end of Act II; considerable changes to Florestan’s first Act III aria; no melodrama between Rocco and Leonore; no fiery ‘Abscheulicher!’ entry into Leonore’s great aria of hope; a duet for Florestan and Leonore which precedes, and to a certain extent pre-empts, the great ‘O namenlose Freude’ – and a totally different final chorus.

And more besides. But perhaps the most noticeable attribute of this recording is the replacement of all the dialogue from the live performance with Walter Jens’s tried and tested retrospective narration, known as ‘Rocco’s Tale’. It works well in concert performance and for armchair listening, but be warned: no English translations at all are provided with this disc.

As for the performance itself – well, from the first notes of the Leonore No. 2 Overture, Bertrand de Billy creates lively dramatic tension, though later his pacing can be a little erratic. Brigitte Geller is a bright-eyed Marzelline, Peter Rose a sympathetic and nicely characterised Rocco.


As Florestan, Kurt Streit offers vocal clarity and resilience in his deeply affecting portrayal. However, I find Camilla Nylund’s highly-strung vibrato makes for a too-often breathless Leonore; she sounds rather under the wrong sort of strain. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir show characteristic discipline in their delivery. Hilary Finch