Musicweb International
Terry Barfoot
Beethoven: Fidelio
Jonas Kaufman has become particularly associated with the role of Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio, and in that regard he follows many of the world’s greatest tenors and confirms his position among them. Of course the impact the role makes is heightened by the delay in Florestan’s appearance, delayed as it is until the opening scene of Act Two. Musically Kaufman does not disappoint: his ringing tone as he cries out ‘God what darkness here!’ could hardly be more stirring. And as the Act continues he is joined by a cast who work musically as a team, with Adrianne Pieczonka as his wife Leonore adding a special intensity as the music develops its drama.

With an excellent cast therefore, and with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, this Fidelio recorded live at the Salzburg Festival would on the face of it have much to recommend it. And had it been issued on CD, that would indeed have been the case. However, this is a DVD issue, and unless you are one those very few opera lovers who likes to have each new performance reinterpreted by a director who is so intelligent that his vision and insights leave us other mere mortals behind, then this new version cannot be recommended.

This performance generated much hostility among the Salzburg audience, and it is not hard to understand why. The spoken dialogue was conveniently replaced by ‘atmospheric’ noises, recorded sounds created by Torsten Ottersberg suggesting sundry rumblings and groanings, during the course of which the singers either improvise their actions or stand around trying to look suitably thoughtful. The sets make no attempt to conjure the prison in its various aspects: neither the domestic scene above ground in Act 1, nor the dark dungeon in Act 2. Instead there are huge walls and doors, against which various shadows are projected, both large and small. Perhaps it’s all intended to allow us to delve into the deeper feelings of the characters, and to provide profound psychological insights. Or perhaps not. Who knows? Presumably the director Claus Guth knew, since he was the genius behind this.

If anyone should chance to purchase this DVD I’d be astonished if it would ever come off the shelf again for a second playing. But enough said, I’m off to the charity shop.

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