Fidelio [Concert performance; sung in German with English surtitles]

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

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 23 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

That “Fidelio” has often been referred to as perhaps the finest dramatic oratorio is not necessarily a condemnation of it as an opera, yet this final (though not definitive) revision of the opera formerly known as “Leonora” is particularly suited to concert performance. And, following a memorable accounts of the “Missa Solemnis” earlier this year, Sir Colin Davis (in the first of two concert performances, the second being on the 25th) was clearly intent on showing just how much of the drama resides within the music as much as, if not more than, the actual narrative.

He was abetted by a cast that was strong individually and as an ensemble, vital in a work in which the interaction of singers plays so important a part in maintaining dramatic momentum. Thus Christine Brewer – fearless in her ‘Abscheulicher’ aria (with intonationally spot-on support from the obbligato horn trio), while blending seamlessly with the other singers in the revealing quartet and trio that each focus the drama during the initial stages of Act One. Come the encounters first with Florestan then Pizarro in Act Two, and the innate resolve she brought to the part made it inconceivable that love would not triumph over tyranny. As Florestan, John Mac Master soon found a viable balance between selfless heroism and stoic acceptance; also an impressive variety of tone in his Act Two scena as he veered between extremes of despair and elation: qualities, moreover, which Beethoven succeeds in ‘making real’ to a degree that belies his often-decried aptitude as a composer for the operatic stage. The ‘love-duet’ had passion but no emotional indulgence, amply fulfilling its role as both a formal and expressive lynchpin between the dramatic climax of the opera and the apotheosis of the final scene.

The remaining singers were never less than attuned – often impressively so. None more than Kristinn Sigmundsson (a late stand-in for Alfred Reiter), who brought unusual thoughtfulness to Rocco – here an avuncular figure capable of real compassion, whether in his jocular ‘money’ aria or the tense duet with Pizarro when the latter’s ruthlessness makes him realise his own humanity. The latter role was taken by Juha Uusitalo with less in the way of sheer nastiness than is so often the case – making him not the all-out villain so much as one whose desire for power has caused him to overreach himself and thus face up to the accumulated consequences. Which is not to deny either the seething energy of his ‘vengeance’ aria, or the stinging anger of his intervention just prior to the close of Act One.

Her aria slightly spoilt by the over-pointing of certain phrases, Sally Matthews was none the less a fine Marzelline – her burnished tone heard to advantage in the ensembles that follow, and making one regret that this naïve but sympathetic figure has relatively little to do once the opera gets into its dramatic stride. Andrew Kennedy similarly made of Jaquino a likeable, even engaging figure – and one who clearly relished his timely intervention at the work’s dramatic apex. Daniel Borowski brought an amiability as well as authority to the cameo appearance of Don Fernando, while Andrew Tortise and Darren Jeffery sang (from the chorus) and complemented each other well in their small but eloquent roles as prisoners. It was in this latter scene that the men of the London Symphony Chorus first made their mark – gilding the nobility of spirit that makes the entry of the prisoners such an emotional highpoint, while the full forces were at one with Davis in making the finale a viable dramatic ending rather than the ceremonial appendage it can often seem.

From an overture whose vehemence takes it far away from being a curtain raiser, Davis’s approach had a symphonic cohesion that saw each act through in an overall sweep of intensity – and with astute control over the ebbing away of tension in Act One’s finale that would be less discernible in the opera house. The full-bodied but never too weighty orchestral sonority, founded on the eight double basses that Davis favours in Beethoven, and with antiphonal violins, set the seal on a reading that, when issued on LSO Live, looks set to take its place among the finest.

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