Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wow! Apparently private recordings of this performance (or one given a few nights later) have been circulating for years; somehow I've missed them. But now the BBC has made this one available: February 24, 1961, the opening night of a new production. Otto Klemperer's 1962 studio recording (also with Vickers and Frick but otherwise different soloists) has long been the benchmark recording for this work. This set challenges it.
As we have come to expect, tempos are broad. Even Marzelline's aria is leisurely, but it allows us to clearly hear the young girl's pining for her beloved Fidelio and domestic bliss; "Mir ist so wunderbar" is a moment properly frozen in time, with each character's concerns unmistakable. Rocco's
"Gold" aria has a bounce and is so well delineated (and sung) that it gets applauded. Pizarro's aria also is not rushed, and its menace seems all the more pre-meditated as a result.
The Prisoners' release is practically mystical. The dungeon's gloom in Act 2 rarely has been this pervasive, and the following events unfold frighteningly. The "Er sterbe" quartet is vicious in its intensity. Klemperer programs the Leonore Overture No. 3 between the act's scenes and the effect is (as always) catastrophic; I have skipped it on every playing after the first and the result is what it should be: we go from darkness to light in a moment. And the final chorus is a most remarkable release of emotions--sheer joy after such terror.
Sera Jurinac is a soprano Leonore, and she's superb. A beat or two is skipped in her big aria but the effect is still one of noble rage, hope, and resolution. By Act 2 the character's stature is never in doubt and Jurinac's voice is a pillar of strength. Her empathy with the prisoner is palpable. If anything, Jon Vickers is better than on the EMI recording; his cry of "Gott" is less tortured than overwhelmingly sad and resigned, and he never misses a nuance (or a note) from then on. He always was a stage creature and here he's as vivid as he can be.
Gottlob Frick (also on EMI) is a straightforward Rocco, and his delivery of the recitative (of which Klemperer has retained much) helps to round out the character. Hans Hotter's Pizarro is vicious and dangerous, and his snarling delivery is effective and brutal despite a severe wobble in the voice on sustained notes. Elsie Morison and John Dobson are a lovely (actually interesting) pair of youngsters, and Forbes Robinson is a good enough Don Fernando. As you might expect, the Covent Garden forces are splendid. The mono sound is a bit bright but otherwise very good, with the voices in fine balance with the orchestra. Even if you own the redoubtable EMI recording, this one will open your ears and heart anew: it's a portrait of exactly what Beethoven was aiming for. [1/12/2004]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Fidelio, Op. 72 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Joseph Ward (Tenor),
Jon Vickers (Tenor),
Gottlob Frick (Bass),
Hans Hotter (Bass Baritone),
Elsie Morison (Soprano),
John Dobson (Tenor),
Forbes Robinson (Bass),
Sena Jurinac (Soprano),
Victor Godfrey (Baritone)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Written: 1804/1814; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 02/24/1961
Venue: Live Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1804).
Composition revised: Vienna, Austria (1806).
Composition revised: Vienna, Austria (1814).
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