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Beethoven: Fidelio / Dooley, Berry, Ludwig, King, Rother

Beethoven / Dooley / Berry / King / Ludwig
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101597  
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Josef GreindlChrista LudwigLisa OttoMartin Vantin,   ... 
Conductor:  Arthur Rother
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper ChorusBerlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Ludwig van Beethoven

Don Fernando – William Dooley
Don Pizarro – Walter Berry
Florestan – James King
Leonore – Christa Ludwig
Rocco – Josef Greindl
Marzelline – Lisa Otto
Jaquino – Martin Vantin
First Prisoner – Barry McDaniel
Second Prisoner – Manfred Röhrl

Berlin Deutsche Opera Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Walter Hagen-Groll)
Arthur Rother, conductor

Gustav Rudolf Sellner, stage director
Wilhelm Reinking, stage and costume designer

Recorded from the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1962–1963

Picture format: NTSC 4:3 B/W
Sound format: PCM Mono
Region code:
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Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
Running time: 124 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)

R E V I E W:

BEETHOVEN Fidelio Artur Rother, cond; Christa Ludwig ( Leonore ); Lisa Otto ( Marzelline ); James King ( Florestan ); Martin Vantin ( Jaquino ); Walter Berry ( Pizzaro ); Josef Greindl ( Rocco ); William Dooley ( Don Fernando ); Deutsche Oper Ch & O ARTHAUS 101 597 (DVD: 124:00) Live: Berlin 1963

This superb production of Fidelio dates from only two years after the reopening of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, which had been in abeyance since the end of World War II. Performed under the shadow of the recent erection of the Berlin Wall—which, among innumerable other barbarities, denied West Berliners access to the lovely Oper Unter den Linden in East Berlin—it is an inspired memento of suffering under and resistance to totalitarian oppression in all guises. (I was privileged to be present at the fall of the Wall in 1989, while I was conducting doctoral dissertation research in East Berlin archives. Among my treasured relics are photos of me standing atop the wall, and actual fragments culled from that cement monstrosity.)

The film version of this production is shot in black and white, which provides a singularly appropriate atmosphere for the struggle of light to overcome darkness. The background remains somewhat murky, but foreground scenes are clear enough. The set—the interior of a stone fortress—is minimalist but effective in its stark simplicity. Except for capes worn by Don Pizzaro and Don Fernando, and a tricorn cockade hat sported by the latter, the costumes are of a generic yet tasteful simplicity that allows them to suggest virtually any time and place of the last 200 years, aptly signifying the universality of the subject matter.

With a couple of minor reservations, the singing and acting are exemplary. Christa Ludwig—arguably the greatest Leonore in any complete recording of the opera in any medium, though she has several formidable rivals for that claim—is beyond criticism. Her voice has more presence and impact than in her fabled EMI studio recording under Klemperer, and her upper register more sweetness. She not only nails the tortuous B? at the end of “Ich folg’ dem inner’n Triebe” without strain, but unlike other sopranos manages the equally treacherous runs immediately preceding it without taking an awkward breath or dropping any notes. She is also almost the only Leonore who looks even moderately convincing in disguise as a young man.

Virtually all of the preceding comments apply as well to the Don Pizarro of Walter Berry. His excellent rendition in the EMI Klemperer set pales in comparison to this volcanic embodiment of evil, rendered with ringing voice, impeccable adherence to singing rather than declamatory shouting, and a riveting visual presence as a villain who positively relishes his malevolent machinations. Very nearly their equal is the young James King as Florestan. If not quite on the level of the matchless Jon Vickers under Klemperer (and King would grow further into the role with time), he delivers an alternately anguished and ecstatic portrayal with golden, unforced tones.

If the other solo voices occupy a slightly lower rung, they are still quite solid. Josef Greindl, renowned as the stalwart singer of numerous Wagnerian bass roles at Bayreuth in the 1950s, is a singer I have admired less than have many other critics; while he was a master interpreter, his somewhat nasal and diffuse vocal production and constant tendency to aspirate were not inconsequential detriments. Here, however, in yet another role for which he was widely famed, these defects are at a minimum, and both his singing and acting create a sympathetic portrayal of the well-motivated but morally compromised jailer. Baritone William Dooley is a capable Don Fernando, if lacking the gravitas of many bass counterparts who have assumed this role. Lisa Otto is a good but not great Marzelline, sweet-voiced but slightly stressed in her top notes; Martin Vantin offers a somewhat nasal but well-sung Jaquino. Special mention should be made of the uncommonly beautiful and affective renderings by Barry McDaniel and Manfred Röhrl of the brief roles of the two prisoners. The choir also sings well, although it is a bit ragged in the final triumphant ensemble.

The big surprise for me is the conducting of Artur Rother. Previous exposure to his other recordings (virtually all radio broadcasts) had taught me to expect a plodding, mediocre Kapellmeister . Remarkably and unexpectedly, here he is a major asset, leading a finely balanced account of the score with moderate tempi that alternate as required between breadth and vigor, with a notable emphasis on a continuous lyrical pulse. To take but one example, his handling of the flowing lines of triplets in the overture is as fine as any I’ve ever heard, at once relaxed and precise without being either lax or metronomic. The orchestra plays quite capably, though with occasional minor moments of imprecision (for example, a slightly cracked note in one of the trumpet fanfares in the act II dungeon scene). The monaural recorded sound is quite acceptable, though the upper strings and female voices have a slightly glassy sheen.

In sum, this is a splendid version that could, and probably should, be a first choice for a Fidelio on DVD. However, for those who desire a version in stereo and in color, there are several worthy alternatives. To my great surprise, I would give pride of place to a dark-horse candidate, the 1979 Glyndebourne staging on Arthaus conducted by Bernard Haitink. With the exception of Elisabeth Söderström as Leonore and Michael Langdon as Don Fernando, the other principal singers—Anton de Ridder as Florestan, Robert Allman as Don Pizzarro, and Curt Appelgren as Rocco—likely will have little name recognition even among opera cognoscenti , and yet they all deliver superior singing and acting in a beautiful Peter Hall production. Very close behind that are two other versions. One reprises the Deutsche Oper Berlin production—this time in color and from 1970—on DG, featuring Gwyneth Jones (voice still intact), James King, Gustav Neidlinger, Josef Greindl, and Martti Talvela, with Karl Böhm (as was his wont) a more energetic and inspired presence live than in the 1969 DG studio recording with Jones and King. If you can forgive Greindl’s now badly worn voice as Rocco, this may be your first choice instead, as Jones and King are as incandescent a pair as were Ludwig and King seven years before. The other is a second dark-horse candidate, the 1991 Covent Garden version on Arthaus with Gabriela Be?a?kova, Josef Protschka, Monte Pederson, Robert Lloyd, and Hans Tschammer, with Christoph von Dohnányi on the podium, well sung throughout but with a less handsome staging and slightly lower level of emotional voltage. A step below that is yet another Arthaus entry, a 1968 film version from the Hamburg State Opera with Anja Silja, Richard Cassilly, Theo Adam, Ernst Wiemann, and Hans Sotin. It is well sung and attractively staged, but marred by the omission of Rocco’s “Gold” aria, a dry-voiced Don Pizzaro by Adam, and pedestrian conducting by Leopold Ludwig.

All of the above have been reviewed in these pages, by Mortimer H. Frank in Fanfare 29:6 (Haitink), Phillip Scott in 32:3 (Böhm), James H. North in 33:3 (Dohnányi), and Barry Brenesal in 32:4 (Ludwig); in each case I fully concur with my colleague’s overall verdict, if differing on a few particulars. Of other versions, the only one worth considering is the Metropolitan Opera production from 2000 on DG, with Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, Falk Struckmann, René Pape, and Robert Lloyd, which is less than the sum of its considerable parts. The contemporary staging makes a far better impression on DVD than it did when I saw it live, and James Levine is a dynamic podium presence, but Heppner’s vocally frayed Florestan is only acceptable at best, and the other principals (except for the ever-magnificent Lloyd) do not quite equal their rivals in other versions. Other DVD versions (including, regrettably, that on DG with Leonard Bernstein) are poorly sung and do not even come into consideration. On CD the EMI set under Klemperer with Ludwig, Vickers, Berry, Gottlob Frick, and Franz Crass continues to reign supreme.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Fidelio, Op. 72 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Josef Greindl (Bass), Christa Ludwig (Mezzo Soprano), Lisa Otto (Soprano),
Martin Vantin (Tenor), William Dooley (Baritone), Walter Berry (Bass Baritone),
Barry McDaniel (Baritone), Manfred Röhrl (Bass), James King (Tenor)
Conductor:  Arthur Rother
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus,  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804/1814; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Great music, poor visuals April 16, 2018 By Sepp M. (Madison, NH) See All My Reviews "I bought this mostly to hear Christa Ludwig. She was great as Fidelio but the video is so old and blurry that it detracts from the music." Report Abuse
 Classic Fidelio October 8, 2012 By J. MacElderry (Moorestown, NJ) See All My Reviews "This is a 1963 live performance from the Deutsche Opera of Berlin, a black and white film of a traditional stage setting. Picture is fine, and the sound though not stereo, is quite acceptable. It captures performances by three great singers in the prime of their careers, and in roles that were near ideal for them - Christs Ludwig, James King and Walter Berry. Ludwig's audio recording with Jon Vickers is still regarded as perhaps the finest recording available, but this video from one year later is even finer. King and Berry sing at their considerable best." Report Abuse
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