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Beethoven: Fidelio / Benackova, Protschka, Dohnanyi

Beethoven / Benackova / Protschka / Archer / Lloyd
Release Date: 07/28/2009 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 100075  
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Mark BeesleyLynton AtkinsonNeill ArcherMonte Pederson,   ... 
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden OrchestraRoyal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Ludwig van Beethoven

Leonore – Gabriela Be?a?ková
Florestan – Josef Protschka
Jacquino – Neill Archer
Marzelline – Marie McLaughlin
Rocco – Robert Lloyd
Don Pizarro – Monte Pederson
Don Fernando – Hans Tschammer
First Prisoner – Lynton Atkinson
Second Prisoner – Mark Beesley

Royal Opera Chorus
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor

Adolf Dresen, stage director
Erich Falk, lighting

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1991.

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0
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Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch
Running time: 125 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)


BEETHOVEN Fidelio Christoph von Dohnányi, cond; Gabriela Be?a?ková ( Leonore ); Josef Protschka ( Florestan ); Robert Lloyd ( Rocco ); Monte Pederson ( Don Pizarro ); Marie McLaughlin ( Marzelline ); Neill Archer ( Jacquino ); Royal Op House, Covent Garden O & Ch ARTHAUS 100 075 (DVD: 125:00) Live: London 1991

This is a stunningly dramatic presentation—aurally and visually—of this unique masterpiece, which stands at the crossroads of the operatic and symphonic repertoires. All the elements are in place, but a most striking feature is the lighting on stage (Erich Falk) and as captured on Derek Bailey’s video. The prisoners’ chorus is breathtaking, a living Rembrandt canvas, its rich patina shadowed by age. In the dungeon, bright spots illuminate individuals amid sheer blackness. Throughout the opera, subtle sidelights and backlighting soften yet energize the many facial close-ups. The production (Margit Bardy) is straight early 19th-century realism (no Eurotrash at Covent Garden!), the settings stark and plain, as befits the prison environment. A chilling touch is the single sentry pacing atop the ramparts, scanning the road from Seville for the Minister’s approach; we see him and his bayonet-carrying rifle silhouetted against the sky at the top of the screen.

The direction (Adolf Dresen) is natural and straightforward; no one ever steps out of character. During Rocco’s “Gold” aria, one sees how opera singers must adapt to minor mishaps: he locks his cash-box and starts to pick it up, but the lock hasn’t caught; he seamlessly relocks it without missing a beat. When he throws a coin to each listener, Jacquino misses his, and Marzelline has to pick it up; only later does one realize that this was intentional: Jacquino wants no part of the marriage being discussed, while Marzelline treasures every aspect. It’s a small touch, but telling. One sign of the age of the production is Rocco’s vigorously bouncing his grown daughter on his lap, which seems shockingly un-PC in our more sensitive era. A more humorous miscalculation is a caged canary that Marzelline studies during a break in her aria; the image—another prisoner—is effective, but the bird is real, and, comes the quartet, it jumps about in consternation, as if to say, “That’s not the way I would sing it.”

Archer’s Jacquino is more than a silly love-struck boy; he is something of an arrogant punk. This Marzelline is not just a piece of fluff; despite her misdirected passion for Fidelio, she doesn’t want to hurt the annoying, aggressive Jacquino. McLaughlin’s voice is heavier than we are used to in the role; it fits this more mature young woman, better than her neat lipstick and mascara suit a poor jailer’s daughter. Lloyd’s bass is too light for Rocco; he manages his solos well but fails to anchor the trios and quartets. Be?a?ková was never the greatest singer, but her voice had a luminous character and a humanity ideal for this role, and she was still close enough to her prime to pour out glorious tone. She is a most affecting Fidelio/Leonore. Pederson’s snarling, sneering Pizarro is a vicious, violent villain. He shouts a bit in his singing, which is perfect for the character. A giant of a man, he throws crippled old Rocco to the ground—can’t get more villainous than that. Protschka is a superb Florestan, his aria the next best thing to Vickers. In another fine directorial touch, his opening cry echoes through the empty cistern; only then do the lighting and the camera find him. In the dungeon scene, Pederson proves a somewhat wooden actor. No matter: powered by the most dramatic music ever written, the scene unfolds inexorably. Don Fernando is a distinguished Victorian gentleman in a top hat; as always, what should be a commanding presence is not achieved by the third baritone/bass in the cast.

The orchestra is excellent, if a touch refined at oboe and horns; Dohnányi gets both strength and precision from everyone. The chorus is satisfactory but not exceptional. There is much dialogue, but none after the rescuing trumpet call. Jacquino does not appear on the ladder announcing “Der Herr Minister ist angekommen” and Rocco does not get to reply “Wir kommen—ja, wir kommen augenblichlich!” (which has become a well-worn phrase at our house). Nor do Florestan and Leonore exchange the heart-rending “O mein Leonore, was hast du für mich getan?” . . . “Nichts, nichts, mein Florestan” before breaking onto “O namelose Freude!” I miss those few seconds, which not only offer welcome momentary respite from the incessant, pounding action but also strengthen the drama that follows. There is no Third Leonore Overture.

Audio and video quality is amazingly fine for a 1991 live performance. Except for one dead spot near the canary, voices project as if in a studio; there is a minimum of extraneous stage noise, and the English public is most polite. The video is as clean and clear as one could ask from a pre-Blu-ray disc; an occasional pan or zoom loses focus for a second. I know nothing of the possibilities or limitations of video post-processing, but the results are outstanding: colors bright, hues subtle. The audio is PCM stereo, the picture format 4:3; subtitles are available in German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch. Superb direction and lighting enable this performance to exceed the sum of its admirable parts by far. This could be your first and only video Fidelio.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Fidelio, Op. 72 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Mark Beesley (Bass), Lynton Atkinson (Tenor), Neill Archer (Tenor),
Monte Pederson (Baritone), Marie McLaughlin (Soprano), Josef Protschka (Tenor),
Robert Lloyd (Bass), Gabriela Benacková (Soprano), Hans Tschammer (Bass)
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804/1814; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1991 
Venue:  Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 

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