Opera News, September 2016
Robert Croan
THIS 2004 FIDELIO from the Zurich Opera House is a curious, quirky performance in which hardly any aspect, musical or theatrical, is traditional or expected. That’s refreshing at times, but on its merits, the set is not competitive with director Jürgen Flimm’s previous (entirely different) staging for the Met four years earlier—a superlative production available on DVD from Deutsche Grammophon. The rerelease of the Zurich disc may have been spurred by the recent death of conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, along with the presence of Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan.

Harnoncourt’s experience in early music seems evident in his vision of the score. It’s a light concept, in the spirit of the opera’s Singspiel format, marked by mostly brisk tempos, transparent textures and a strong rhythmic framework that gives added emphasis to the stressed beats. The booming peasant pulse in the fast section of Rocco’s aria, and the lively pace of the little march that precedes Don Pizarro’s entrance, are just two examples, but Harnoncourt can surprise us with big tempo changes within a movement, or an unexpectedly languid pace in “O namenlose Freude.”

In contrast to Flimm’s updated, generic Third Reich-style production at the Met, the Zurich production is set in Napoleonic times, against a minimalist set by Rolf Glittenberg and not much more than a table and a chair or two for props. He delays some important actions, such as Leonore’s waving the gun in the Act II rescue quartet, and goes contrary to the libretto by placing Leonore and Florestan far apart when the words say “my wife on my breast.” More effective is his portrayal of an unusually nasty relationship between Marzelline and Jacquino—until the final scene, when Jacquino prevents the distracted girl from taking her own life.

Camilla Nylund’s bright, cool soprano is a shade light for Leonore, but she weathers the role’s heavier moments without strain or unsteadiness, and maintains credibility in male disguise without losing her personal beauty or dignity. Kaufmann’s bronzed voice is not quite a Heldentenor, and it is stretched to the limits in the “Freiheit” conclusion to his aria, but even that works in favor of the hallucinatory nature of the text. Every line is expressive, every phrase colored with high emotion, in sound as well as his countenance and demeanor.

A strong asset is the warmly vocalized, humanely portrayed Rocco of the late Laszlo Polgar, who vocalizes his comic aria with bel canto richness and makes it clear that this jailer cares about the welfare of those in his charge. Günther Groissböck also provides some excellent singing as Don Fernando, though his single appearance in the finale is marred by motley, confused staging of the vocally excellent chorus. By contrast, Alfred Muff shouts and barks Don Pizarro’s music, enacting the villain with every melodramatic cliché in the book.

Christoph Strehl’s aggressive Jaquino is pungently vocalized, while Elizabeth Rae Magnuson’s pallid-tone Marzelline is frequently unpleasant and out of tune.

  www.jkaufmann.info back top