Fidelio is not one of my favourite operas and not my favourite Beethoven work. But there is wonderful and very demanding music and a great humanity to the story. This production is definitely worthwhile and decent enough on its own terms, but it is not my first choice(1970, followed by 1978 and 2002). Although it is set in a prison, so you wouldn't expect sumptuous sets and costumes, the lighting is too dreary and the dungeon setting claustrophobic. I do understand that emphasis was placed on evil and the mundane aspects of prison life, but when it feels poorly-lit and static it does present a problem.
The production does fare better musically. The strings are very musical and appealing, the woodwinds sound very fine and beautiful and the brass are bright and not too fatigued. I also liked the fact that Leonore 3 was included, that has always been a great way to break the tension of the opera and the orchestra were spirited in its performance of it. Zubin Mehta's conducting was uneven though, the finale was wonderful and so was Mir Ist So Wunderbar and Rocco's Money aria. Other areas weren't so good, with some of the Singspiel parts early on lacking any snap and In Des Lebens rather dead-feeling in all honesty.
Staging is okay, Marzelline and Jacquino are presented interestingly in that they really seem to dislike one another, Rocco is still morally ambiguous and the scenes between Leonore and Florestan are moving. However, Fernando and especially Pizarro are very stand and deliver, and although they sing and blend handsomely and musically likewise with the chorus, taking away from the poignancy of O Welche Lust. Some may be confused by the purpose of the images after the Leonore 3 overture, I for one did find them beautifully done and symbolising a real sense of entrapment.
Of the singing, there were only two that I'd really call outstanding. One was Matti Salminen as Rocco, who is very commanding and benevolent. No wonder he got the loudest applause of the evening other than Meier and Mehta. He has been better vocally, with some moments that sound a tad coarse, but the Money aria is very winning. The other was the Leonore of Waltraud Meier. Again, she has given more resplendent vocal performances before, but she is always moving and having a sense of the drama, with her energy never flagging.
But I have to say Peter Seiffert's Florestan also wasn't too bad, in fact he was very good. Despite a wobbly start, he gives a poignant and masterly account of In Des Lebens with beautifully enunciated diction and spot on vocals and musicality. His acting is also to be credited, with his joy in Namenlose Freude genuine and his near-hysteria in the scene where he asks Rocco to contact Leonore moved me. Against all this, I do think despite the sweating and unkempt hair and all that, although not as glaring as the Florestan of the 1990 performance, that Seiffert is too healthy for a prisoner who is meant to be starving and broken.
Juha Uusitalo does have a potent and impressive tone as Pizarro, but apart from the rather clichéd Dracula's cape movement he is not malevolent enough. For a character as evil and icily authoritative as Pizarro, especially in the first act, and I blame the stage direction mainly for this, Uusitalo doesn't move very much at all, often stock still. Carsten Stabell is a tall and sometimes dignified Fernando, if like Uusitalo standing still for much of his appearance. His singing is good with a nice tone but under-pitch at times and his singing suffers the most from the muffled, distant sound quality that is throughout the performance, almost as if the whole production had taken place in the dungeon.
Rainer Trost is good as Jacquino, and Ildiko Raimondi an appealing Marzelline. All in all, decent but uneven, I'd see it is worth seeing for Salminen, Meier and to a lesser extent Seiffert but of the five or six Fidelios I've watched this was my least favourite so far. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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