To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth in 1970, German television took Fidelio into the studio and filmed the Deutsche Oper Berlin's production of the composer's only opera. Karl Böhm, well-known as a master conductor of this opera, leads an astonishing performance which emphasizes orchestral clarity and emotional depth. The conductor leads a strong cast headed by the glorious Gwyneth Jones and powerful James King in the starring roles. First time on DVD! "Gwyneth Jones sang a passionate Leonore...James King was a Florestan on the summit of his vocal expression." (Berliner Morgenpost)
Beethovens only opera, Fidelio
is often problematic in performance but this 1970 production by the Deutschen Opera Berlin with an all-star cast led by conductor Karl Böhm, dispels all reservations. The opera houses production was moved to a studio where it was filmed with barely a hint of lip-synch problems. Video director Ernst Wilds fluid camera movements and closeups render the story more intimate, and thus more believable. The sets and period costumes by Wilhelm Reinking are effective without overtly calling our attention to them, an indication that the music comes before flashy visuals that may compete for our attention. The same can be said for the staging by Gustav Rudolf Sellner. The story of injustice and tyranny and abuse of political prisoners unfortunately carries a contemporary relevance. Still, the story of Leonore, the prisoners wife who dons male attire, gets a job at the prison, and saves her husband from the murderous Pizzaro does require suspended belief as does the last-minute arrival of the Kings minister who sets everything right. What makes Fidelio
so powerful is Beethovens music, especially when performed with the intensity of this cast and Böhm, a masterful Beethoven conductor who gets everything right here. He exposes the tensions underlying the light-hearted banter at the start of Act I, makes the Prisoners Chorus heart-wrenching, and sparks the joyful ending. His tempos and the playing he elicits from the chorus and orchestra are superb. It helps that he has a first-class international cast at his disposal. Soprano Gwyneth Jones had a reputation for uneven singing but in 1970 she was in fine vocal shape and her voice easily handles the roles demands. Her Abscheulicher
aria is spine-tingling and her acting throughout is more than convincing. A surprise here is Olivera Miljakovic, as Marzelline, the jailors daughter, who sings with a fresh, bright voice that blends well in ensembles. The men are uniformly excellent. Tenor James King is a powerful Florestan, the prisoner in the dungeon, singing with anguished tones that capture the mans desperation. As the foolish but good hearted jailor, Josef Greindl acts and sings well, as does the bad guy, the prison governor, Pizarro, sung by another Bayreuth stalwart, Gustav Neidlinger. And to have a great basso like Martti Talvela in whats really a cameo role as the Kings Minister, is icing on a very enticing cake. This is about as good a DVD Fidelio
as we have. --Dan Davis
Fidelio is an all-regions color disc in 4:3 ratio. Sound options include PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround. Sung in German, subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese.