LSO Live: Fidelio

0 of 5 stars

Beethoven
Fidelio [Sung in German]

Fidelio/Leonora – Christine Brewer
Florestan – John Mac Master
Don Pizarro – Juha Uusitalo
Rocco – Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marzelline – Sally Matthews
Jaquino – Andrew Kennedy
Don Fernando – Daniel Borowski
First Prisoner – Andrew Tortise
Second Prisoner – Darren Jeffery

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Recorded at concert performances on 23 & 25 May 2006 in the Barbican Hall, London


Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: LSO LIVE
LSO0593 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 1 minute

Sir Colin Davis memorably closed his period as music director of the Royal Opera House conducting this opera with a fine cast but in a rather controversial production that was only revived once and only then with much alteration. Listening to these CDs one is reminded of those performances while realising how Davis’s interpretation has changed since the late 1980s.

As the overture starts one has the feel that this might be Sir Colin leading a rather old-fashioned and rather sedate performance as the brooding theme that intersperses the introductory chords develops, but then suddenly light and colour seems to fill the atmosphere and from then on the tempos are nicely judged and always fitting to the drama in hand. The end of the prison scene of the second act from the ‘Er sterbe’ quartet is riveting. Recalling his spellbinding conducting of it, an interpolated Leonore Number 3 Overture after that scene (such as Leonard Bernstein included in his DG recording), and as in those ‘farewell’ Royal Opera House performances, was to be hoped for, but sadly not.

From the overture onwards the London Symphony Orchestra is on fine form, and even if the sound as recorded is slightly dry and boxy (as so often with recordings from this venue) it does allow one to hear individual parts realised in considerable clarity. Woodwind playing is really superb and the horns are a significant asset throughout.

Once the drama begins the lighter moments involving Jaquino and Marzelline have a sprightly pace that allows the naivety of these young characters with their rather trivial domestic problems to register. The voices are closely and forwardly recorded and sometimes this deadens the dramatic atmosphere a little. Sally Matthews with her light, pleasing and individual voice thus sometimes sounds a little fluttery and does not always make as much of the words as she could. Her dialogue is also a little staidly and artificially delivered, although she is certainly not the only one of the principals one could level this charge at. This is one of the slightly disappointing aspects of the performance in fact – but one that besets many other recorded competitors. A short session with a drama coach could have improved this and integrated the spoken words better into the musical drama.

The Jaquino is Andrew Kennedy who with greater stage experience of the role from Glyndebourne is rather more completely inside his role from both a vocal and dramatic perspective – and he knows how to make his sung words really come alive.

In her second recorded Leonore, the other being in Chandos’s “Opera in English” series, Christine Brewer again demonstrates that the fearsome hurdles of this role are easily within her compass, and her performance gains stature as it progresses. Her ‘Abscheulicher’ is full of drama and passion and culminates thrillingly; and the early stages of the second act are very affecting owing to their simplicity and vocal restraint. And then, unlike so many sopranos before her, the fearsome ‘O namenlose Freude’ rings out joyously – as it should. Brewer reminds one that this role was once the sole property of large-voiced sopranos with Wagnerian credentials and that it really benefits from having a soprano voice with good middle and lower registers, rather than a pushed-up mezzo with a good top. She seems to be in peak form at present.

Rocco is solidly sung by the Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson with a full ripe tone, but he misses some of the light and shade of the character. The humour in ‘Hat man nicht auf Gold beineben’ is not really voiced and the anxiety that should be there in his dealings with Don Pizarro, or the controlled compassion with which the character treats Florestan are all assumed in much the same way and make the interpretation a bit charm-less.

No such problems afflict Juha Uusitalo’s Pizarro who vocally suggests the corrupt politician with some fine, incisive and occasionally rather vehement singing. His honest counterpart is well sung by Daniel Borowski who makes as much impact as one can in this role on record. Mention should also be made of the marvellous singing of the men of the London Symphony Chorus as the prisoners.

Casting the role of Florestan is usually the concern of any performance of “Fidelio” as so often the role which requires both grace and power is handed to a heldentenor without the refinement and flexibility for the final section of the character’s opening aria and with often rather painful results. Here the role is sung by the Canadian tenor John Mac Master who has all the notes in his armoury and manages most of his aria with only a few moments of strain. He perhaps misses some of the delirium and pain of the best interpreters, but this is a solid performance.

So another strong operatic recording from Davis in the “LSO Live” series, and one that can take a respectable place among the good recordings of the work. Commendably the booklet includes the German text and an English translation together with a note on the work, a synopsis, and artists’ biographies.

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