Sir Colin Davis

Written by: Colin Anderson

Sir Colin prepares to conduct Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” and record it for LSO Live

It was a joy to sit with Sir Colin Davis in his London home and enjoy the ‘green’ view through the window and listen to the silent ambience. Up the stairs to Sir Colin’s guestroom a bust of Berlioz is spied. “He’s everywhere”, jokes Sir Colin. At the Barbican on May 23 and 25 at 7 o’clock Sir Colin will be conducting another of his heroes, Beethoven: two concert performances of Fidelio by the composer “who speaks most directly to people – he knew suffering.” The plot perhaps “sounds outlandish but it’s based on a true story. It’s a much better opera than some people think; I’ve conducted more performances of Fidelio than any other opera.” Fidelio being presented as a concert means that “the orchestra is out of the pit and the singers just have the music to deal with.”

Like many aware people, Sir Colin is concerned with the way society is changing, muzak being but the tip of the iceberg. “All the things that we inherited from our forebears are falling away – and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. We are bombarded with noise, in supermarkets and airports, a disgusting affliction: you can’t have a conversation and concentrate.” Official views on music education in schools cut no ice, either. “Once governments get into office they get more and more out of touch with life. Then they want to be re-elected so they have to appeal to the greatest number of people.” Sir Colin is equally outspoken regarding authentic performances of Beethoven symphonies. “It means not taking responsibility for the music. We have no idea how they were done. It’s all too formulaic. We like to know as much as we can, naturally, but we shouldn’t allow it to become a law that castrates the whole point of the music. What’s a metronome, anyway? I did Oedipus Rex at Sadler’s Wells and Stravinsky came. He asked, ‘young man, why did you take Jocasta’s aria so slowly?’ I was keeping faith with the metronome marking. ‘But that’s just the beginning’.”

Expect no mere blueprint when Sir Colin conducts Fidelio, an opera “about tyranny, giving people too much power, and how far Leonore (Fidelio) will go to rescue her husband and overthrow a tyrant”, the latter arriving to a “goose-stepping, satirical march.” What musical genius the ill and deaf Beethoven found to write Fidelio, and the Missa solemnis, one of western music’s greatest achievements. “The brains needed to write the thing is only exceeded by the emotion that he put into it. He had to wrestle with his god.” The Missa is forthcoming on LSO Live, as Fidelio will also be.

Colin Davis’s appearances on LSO Live continue apace, Walton’s Symphony No.1 is just out, Sir Colin relishing the challenge of recording concerts and “the extra intensity it brings.” With plans for much more, Sir Colin feels the need to “answer back. Classical music is such a fascinating subject: there is something in it that is so enticing and all-absorbing – and it doesn’t matter how old the music is.” Fidelio is “written with brains, heart, paper and ink, and speaks to everyone. It’s such an emotional piece; it can be overwhelming. If we do it well, we’ll flatten the audience!”

  • Fidelio – 23 & 25 May, Barbican Hall
  • LSO
  • Barbican
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 18 May 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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