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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio – opera in two acts (1814)
Anja Silja (soprano) - Leonore; Richard Cassilly (tenor) - Florestan; Ernst Wiemann (bass) - Rocco; Theo Adam (bass-baritone) - Don Pizarro; Hans Sotin (bass) - Don Fernando; Erwin Wohlfahrt (tenor) - Jacquino; Lucia Popp (soprano) - Marzelline; Kurt Marschner (tenor) - First Prisoner; William Workman (bass) - Second Prisoner; Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera; Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig.
rec. Studio Production, Hamburg State Opera, January 1968. ADD
ARTHAUS 101275 [115:00]



The period colour, the sight of a fresh-faced and -voiced Lucia Popp as the innocent Marzelline and the traditional sets all act to give the viewer of this Fidelio a terminal case of nostalgia. One of a series of made-for-television operas that began in 1957 with Hocheit des Figaros, this was the second to be issued. Alas there is an omission from the opera, Rocco's 'Gold' aria, along with the curtailment of much dialogue - the latter no real problem, surely. The overture is played to a crystal-clear black-and-white shot of the score's title. It is a good if not outstanding reading, something which actually sums up Leopold Ludwig's conducting.
 
The staging, by Rolf Liebermann, is traditional but effective. This really is set in a prison, rather grey of wall and oppressive of atmosphere. Prisoners really do emerge into the light. There's even a token bit of greenery around. Notice also how Leonore's asides are heard but not spoken, thanks to the wonders of then-modern technology!
 
Lucia Popp is in sterling voice as Marzelline. Her miming is not absolutely spot-on and the static and close camera for her Act 1 aria ('O wär ich schon') must have felt uncomfortable for her. Yet she makes believe in her girlish crush on Fidelio/Leonore, just as she genuinely appears transported as she initiates the great Quartet with 'Mir ist so wunderbar'. She plays the part of persuasive daughter well, as Fidelio fights to be allowed to work with Rocco and the prisoners. Erwin Wohlfahrt is almost as fresh of voice as Jacquino. Just a pity his acting is rather wooden.
 
Anja Silja is the model of determination - not only that, she actually looks male in her disguise! You can see it in her grit, in her every move, her every gesture. She is a woman on a mission, and nothing will stop her!
 
Ernst Wiemann, on the present showing, should have left a more illustrious reputation behind him. He is a fine and deep-voiced Rocco; he even looks benevolent yet wise. His pitching is rock-steady: try 'Gut, Sönchen, gut'. Even his acting never wavers for a moment. Theo Adam is dependably commanding as Pizarro
 
The facial close-up seems to be a favoured device here, and it is mightily effective for Adam's 'Ha! Welsch' ein Augenblick!' - sung at first in profile before he moves really uncomfortably close to the camera. Not only is Adam's voice superbly focused, he actually both looks and sounds evil, as he does in Act 2, for 'Er sterbe!'. The Pizarro/Rocco scene is stunning, dramatically, principally because we can see and believe in Rocco's reluctance to undertake his dark task. 'Stunning' is the mot juste for Silja's 'Abscheulicher!' - accompanied by some superb horn playing from the Hamburg Opera Orchestra' s section - which works up to an 'Ich wanke nicht' of steely resolution. If only Silja's miming skills were up to her musical ones.

Act 2 begins with a shot of a closed door, fading into the dark, subterranean locale of Florestan's prison. Cassilly, as unkempt in dress as anyone you might find at London's Embankment, provides a cry of 'Gott' that really does seem to reflect his plight. His voice is open, fully able to negotiate the upper reaches Beethoven demands. 'In des Lebens Frühlingstagen' is taken rather briskly and superficially; luckily the vision of the angel (Leonore) is appropriately transcendent.
 
Ludwig paces the difficult and long Dungeon Scene expertly. Visually, the only fly in the ointment is a Hammer House of Horror zoom-in on Pizarro's face that some might even find amusing. Balancing this is the pale yellow glow of Rocco's lamp symbolising a flicker of hope in the gloom as the pair work to dig Leonore's husband's grave.
 
The moment of revelation is something else here. Silja goes from boy to undisputed woman in one fell swoop as his/her hair – lots of it – falls over the shoulders. Her 'Töt' erst sein Weib!' has all the effect Beethoven surely intended. Ludwig manages to pace 'Namenlose Freude' perfectly, giving it ample space while being slightly fleeter than Klemperer in his famed studio recording.
 
The TV shot suddenly moves to the forecourt for the final scene, where the people gather. Hans Sotin as Don Fernando is truly noble of bearing and is in fine voice; Popp's 'Du prüfest' is astonishingly heartfelt. I remain unconvinced about Pizarro's openly stagy, almost pantomimic criminal when his crimes are revealed; similarly the again uncomfortably close shot of the triumphant pair in the very final bars grates a little.
 
Despite some caveats, this is a version of Fidelio that every lover of the opera should see. There are moments of great depth to balance out the moments of delight and even the unintentionally funny ones.
 
Colin Clarke
 



 


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