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Beethoven: Fidelio Live

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

The central tenor role of Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio is known as one of the most demanding and difficult in all opera. For his first complete opera recording for Decca, Jonas Kaufmann, "the world's greatest currently performing tenor" (London's Daily and Sunday Express), delivers everything the role demands: fearless tone, peerless style, and heart-stopping dramatic intensity. Charismatic Swedish soprano, Nina Stemme, excels in the complex and challenging title role, a touchstone of the heroic repertoire. Recorded live at the Lucerne Festival 2010 with the Festival Orchestra, this Fidelio is led by the legendary conductor Claudio Abbado - helping to make this release a major operatic event.
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Lucerne Festival Orchestra
  • Conductor: Claudio Abbado
  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Audio CD (August 2, 2011)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Live
  • Label: Decca Records
  • ASIN: B004OCCFFI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,024 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ralph Moore TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 2, 2011
Format: Audio CD
"It's true - the man has such a voice..." - which applies not only to Jonas Kaufmann's haunting depiction of Florestan but to the vocal quality of the tenor himself. His characterisation of Florestan is deeply moving on a scale to match that of Jon Vickers' famous assumption, but not even Vickers could have managed the astounding messa di voce on the G of "Gott", the first note Florestan is given to sing as Act 2 opens in the dungeon. This marks an artistic and technical advance on the version on Kaufmann's recital album where, impressive though that is, he simply starts mezza voce and swells the note; this live performance of Florestan's aria is the kind of thing which will be anthologised in twenty years when a disc is issued commemorating great singers of the early 21C.

However, Kaufmann is not the only glory of this set; Abbado's conducting is of the highest order: exceptionally sensitive, shaped and nuanced, drawing meltingly lovely playing from a combination of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Just listen to the soft playing of the horns accompanying Nina Stemme in "Komm, Hoffnung". Indeed there is a chamber-music-like intensity and detail in Abbado's direction; everything he does makes you listen afresh to the humanity of this opera yet he in no sense emulates the kind of majestic grandeur of Klemperer's classic recording. The Prisoners' Chorus, for example, is sung by a smaller onstage chorus than is normal and I miss the swelling exaltation of their hymn to the sunlight which Klemperer creates, but instead we get a very touching, intimate sense of their suffering.
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Format: Audio CD
I can't bring myself to disagree with the lead review's enthusiasm, but in part that's due to the disappointing track record of Fidelio over the past four decades. The closest we've come to a great one is Bernstein's on DG, with a more than honorable mention to Colin Davis's concert reading on LSO Live with a very impressive Christine Brewer in the title role. This new Decca set is a showcase for Kaufmann, and he deserves it. He was a sensation as Florestan on a DVD from the Zurich Opera, not only looking the part of a gaunt, suffering hero but singing with such resplendent voice, courage in attack, and astonishingly accurate intonation that he bowed to none of his predecessors on disc. Decca also finds Abbado in good form, giving us fairly energetic pacing and not too much of the mini-me Beethoven that has infected this opera with the influence of period style: this is a masterpiece of revolutionary fervor and all-embracing idealism. Unless those values are honored, any performance of Fidelio is a pale imitation.

After a somewhat too meticulous but well played overture - why is this piece so hard for conductors and orchestras to get right? - we find ourselves entering the story without much energy. Unfortunately, Strehl's Jaquino shows not the slightest urgency, romance, or callow pique; he's the FedEx man delivering a parcel to Marzelline, and as sung by Rachel Harnisch, she is an emotional cipher, displaying neither acceptance nor rejection toward her unfortunate suitor. Here Abbado lapses into a familiar weakness in his opera conducting, forgoing passion for polish. How odd that Karajan is the one saddled, quite unjustly, with that reputation. His casting in these two roles, especially Helen Donath's Marzellinae, is fully up to the mark.
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Perhaps I was St Lawrence in a past lifetime and flames do not stop me from being truthful. This recording of Fidelio simply did not register with me. The singing is good, mostly, and never bad. Abbado's conducting is efficient, rather reminiscent of Harnoncourt's more 'H.I.P.' approach to early 19th century music, though the Mahler Chamber Orchestra woodwinds use full modern vibrato and such, even when the violins do their best to sound gutless, no vibrato from time to time. I call it the Norrington effect. The style is neither fish, flesh, fowl or good red herring.
Abbado's tempi are on the slow side, often losing forward momentum in the 'emotional' thrust of the moment, which isn't very thrustful at all.

Some of the singers do not seem entirely in-tune with what's going on, either in the production or perhaps with Abbado's very sometimes odd tempos. Dramatic involvement seems a contradiction in terms here. It is all rather superficial, more of a high class 'So You Think You Can Sing' show.

Nina Stemme has magnetism and a fine voice, though not exactly plagued with a wobble she has a warble that separates her from her great Swedish college, Birgit Nilsson's, Fidelio for Maazel. Stemme and Abbado seem slightly at odds with tempi at the start of her role. Stemme's big moments are well done but, again, something doesn't ring true. The first scene with Marzelline and Jaquino shows a slight tug of war, especially between Rachel Harnisch's nicely sung Marzelline and the pit. The tempo stretches and recedes like salt water taffy. Things settle down quickly as the performance moves along. Christoph Stehl's Jaquino is more mature than you usually hear, hardly the 'boy' he is supposed to be, almost a Florestan himself. The charm is missing between him and Harnisch.
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