Mozart/Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart/Beethoven
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Ernst Haefliger, Leonie Rysanek, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gottlob Frick, Irmgard Seefried, Friedrich Lenz; Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay
CATALOGUE NO: 437 345-2 ADD (Reissue, 1963)
If recent recordings – and indeed productions – of Mozart’s dramma giocoso have tended to take their lead from the opera’s alternative title, Il dissoluto punito, and concentrate on its darker side, this reissue of Fricsay’s 1959 recording is welcome for its emphasis on the work’s lighter, comic side. Fricsay’s exhilarating tempos, combined with performances of great freshness and charm from the regular ensemble of Mozart specialists with whom he worked, make for an excellent performance.

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Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is an irresistibly seductive Don; Sena Jurinac and Maria Stader complement each other perfectly as Donnas Anna and Elvira, the former ravishingly tragic and the latter glittering and incandescent; Irmgard Seefried is an enchanting Zerlina; and Ernst Haefliger sweetly lyrical as Don Ottavio.

If this Don Giovanni proves Fricsay and his regular cast supremely accomplished Mozartians, his Fidelio, again with Fischer-Dieskau (a chilling Pizarro), Seefried (a delightful Marzelline) and Haefliger, is less satisfying. The relentless speeds detract from rather than heighten the drama, and Haefliger, a lyric rather than heroic tenor, is too lightweight for Florestan. Overall, though, it is very well sung: Leonie Rysanek’s Leonore is impassioned, though occasionally strained, and Gottlob Frick is imposing as Rocco, but too little attention is paid to the characterisation. Far from ecstatic, Leonore and Florestan’s reunion is marked by a coolness, a real sense that they are singing into the microphone, not to one another. It is as though the singers are relying on the spoken dialogue (provided by actors) to create dramatic impetus. At least, however, the two scenes of Act II are allowed to run into each other – a stirring performance of the Leonore Overture No. 3 is included as an appendix instead.

Whatever the shortcomings dramatically, the sound on Fidelio (the first stereo recording made for DG) – as on the Don Giovanni – has been brilliantly remastered and is bright and expansive.

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Claire Wrathall