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Mortimer H. Frank
Fanfare, September 2010

...the roles of Leonore and Florestan are especially distinguished. So, too, that of Rocco, though he looks more like Marzelline’s grandfather than the father he is supposed to be...the visual aspects of the production that help to make it worthwhile. Seeing the staging carries the day and is often superior to what I have encountered at the Met in New York. Granted, the set for the opening sequences might strike some as a bit bare. But, after all, this is a prison, not the Waldorf. The ensuing outdoor scene is superb, the choreographing of the soldiers upon their entrance seeming as much worthy of Paul Taylor as of the opera house, and the pathos of the prisoners becomes evident from their movement as well as from their singing. In act II, the orchestral gloom that precedes the prelude to Florestan’s glorious aria is underscored by a visual imaging far more compelling than anything I have experienced. Here we are not merely in any old dungeon. Rather we are confronted with a symbolic horror house at once eerie, dark, and surrealistically terrifying. Peter Seiffert is superb in his initial aria, and in the ensuing action, Mehta comes to life. And Juha Uusitalto’s Don Pizzaro is pointedly mean, not only in his vocal projection of the role, but in his facial expressions as well.

One curiosity about this production is its being tagged the “original version.” I could find no indication of what this implies. So far as was noticeable, it is no different from others that are staged today. Throughout, the sound is first-rate, the visual imaging apt and often imaginative. English subtitles are provided.

John Yohalem
Opera News, October 2009

There’s little question that if I’d attended this Fidelio, I’d have left the theater bedazzled. Waltraud Meier makes a thrilling, charismatic Leonore, singing with the coiled restraint of a woman near hysteria, and her feelings wash over the footlights. The other singers are solid, and the conducting is lively, but it is Meier’s agony, heroism and warmth that give it fire…Though it has a vaguely Spanish setting, Fidelio is a universal story, hence a satisfying choice to inaugurate a new Spanish opera house—namely, Santiago Calatrava’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia, which opened in 2006. With this presentation—as with the Palau de les Arts itself—Valencia makes a bid to rival Madrid and Barcelona as Spain’s cultural showcase. Though the production (no doubt designed to show off the stage of the new facility) is the work of native talent Pier’Alli, the starry international cast is largely German and Finnish; Spanish singers are confined to the chorus. Choral singing, though, is a major musical tradition in Valencia and Catalonia and plays an important part in Fidelio; the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana is very good, with exceptional dynamic control in the prisoners’ chorus, proceeding from murmurs of anguish to the stunning plea for freedom. Critique of their stage abilities must wait, as they move very little in Act I and not at all in the finale, presented as an oratorio before a pulsating abstract sunrise. There are no overt references to Spanish history; the setting, the Spanish character names and the stark grandeur of Pier’Alli’s fascist prison take care of that.

Besides Meier, the cast features the able, distraught Florestan of Peter Seiffert; Matti Salminen, a stalwart Rocco careful not to overwhelm the other artists; Juha Uusitalo, a cardboard Pizarro (I have never seen or heard a frightening Pizarro—can it be done?); Ildikó Raimondi, a satisfying Marzelline; and Carsten Stabell, a somewhat wobbly Don Fernando. Zubin Mehta allows his singers breathing room when they need it without letting tension drop and gives the orchestra plenty of opportunity to show off. The Leonore Overture No. 3, performed in its usual niche, makes a dramatic climax, which may be why the final scene is played as an actionless concert.

Frank Swietek
Video Librarian, September 2009

This 2006 production of Fidelio—Beethoven’s only opera—marked the opening of the new Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain. A conductor can approach the tale of faithful Leonore—who disguises herself as a man in order to rescue her freedom-fighter husband Florestan from prison—in one of two ways, emphasizing either the work’s energy or its nobility. Here, Zubin Mehta favors the latter, for the most part choosing broad tempos and a smooth orchestral sound, and while he’s no Otto Klemperer (whose audio recording of Fidelio remains the touchstone), Mehta pulls it off nicely. The lead roles are taken by a cast of experienced veterans—Waltraud Meier as Leonore, Peter Seiffert as Florestan, Matti Salminen as the jailer Rocco—and even though all are somewhat past their prime, the singers provide solid, occasionally very powerful, vocals. The secondary roles are less well filled, however, and the direction is quite static (the chorus, in particular, comes across as stilted and uncomfortable). Moreover, the sets—reinforced with some computer-generated images to convey a descent to Florestan’s dungeon—are rather plain. The camerawork is excellent, although the sound (with DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, and PCM stereo options) sometimes seems a bit off, suggesting that the new hall’s acoustics might still need a bit of adjustment. Still, Mehta’s Fidelio is an acceptable version. Recommended, overall.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

Beethoven’s Fidelio was professionally performed at Valencia’s beautiful new opera house (2072498). Valencia not only commissioned Calatrava to design the new house, but is spending money on upgrading music in the city; for three years Maazel will be the conductor of the opera orchestra and the leads in this opera are imported stars (Seiffert/Florestan, Meier/Fidelio, Salminnen/Rocco, Trost/Jaquino, Uusitalo/Pizarro, Stabell/Fernando, Raimondi/ Marzelline), the conductor is Zubin Mehta. The opera is competently staged, the few plot complications are clearly handled from the audience’s point of view. This is hardly the most polished performance, but it is one of the most vital TC has yet reviewed on DVD. Meier is strong in the title role, but Seiffert has the wobbles when he first appears. He later calms down convincingly. Salminnen sings beautifully and acts his role with dignity (Rocco can sometimes be a weak character). Trost and Raimondi are more than acceptable as the couple whose romance is temporarily interrupted by Fidelio’s appearance. Before the closing scene, the Leonore No. 3 overture is played; listeners can advance to the next “chapter” if the interruption bothers them. Fine sound in all three formats.

Robert Levine, April 2009

This video of Beethoven’s Fidelio was taped over four nights at the end of October, 2006 at the then year-old Palau de las Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Spain. The production inaugurated the opera house’s first official season, and a cast of international opera stars was called upon to take part under Zubin Mehta’s leadership in an evocative production by Pierluigi Pier’Alli.

Set in a dreary prison-camp-type atmosphere at any period between Beethoven’s and the 20th century, with high, gray walls and an airless ambiance, Pier’Alli’s production stresses the mundanity and pervasiveness of evil: chains and spikes hang from the walls, and a closer look reveals that Marzelline’s ironing board is a torturer’s rack. Costumes are dreary. Marzelline is not only indifferent to Jaquino, she seems to openly dislike him; Rocco’s moral ambiguity leans away from the benign (his “Gold” aria seems brutal in some way); the soldiers are cutely dressed martinets unaware of their own evil; the prisoners exhibit no individual traits (they are dressed in dark clothing and hats, their faces barely discernible); Pizarro is the soul of icy authority and moves very little. The dungeon is narrow, with walls claustrophobically reaching to the top of the stage. There are both still and moving projections on the rear wall but they aren’t very clear to the video viewer. Chorus members hold hands during the finale while the projections transmogrify, but it comes across as poorly lit and blurry.

Peter Seiffert’s Florestan is worthy of the highest praise. His opening “Gott!” displays somewhat of a wobble, but his singing of the difficult recit and aria is thereafter masterly, with every note in the right place and the text enunciated with great drama. His near-hysteria when he asks Rocco to contact Leonora is on a par with Vickers’, and the joy he expresses in “Namenlöse Freude” is cathartic. A wonderful performance.

Dramatically, Waltraud Meier matches him. Looking slightly too beautiful for the character, she puts not a movement wrong, and her energy never flags. Would that her voice were as reliable. After a fine “Mir ist so wunderbar” her singing in “Gut, Söhnchen, gut” is ghastly—ugly and off key. She rallies for “Abscheulisher!” but the tone never really pleases and it’s like that throughout—good patches followed by simply terrible ones. The voice simply gets stuck, and we never know when something jarring is going to strike our ears.

Juha Uusitalo’s Pizarro may have been hampered by the way he was directed—standing stock still early on and actually covering his face with his cape in the dungeon scene à la Count Dracula; but he sings with potency and impressive tone. Matti Salminen’s familiar Rocco, as mentioned above, is coarser than usual, but he still has the vocal goods. Ildiko Raimondi’s Marzelline is well sung and truly petulant, while Rainer Trost’s survival in the role of Jaquino wearing the country-bumpkin wig he’s been given deserves an award. Carsten Stabell is a dignified Don Fernando. At the finale, by the way, you realize that Salminen, Seiffert, Uusitalo, and Stabell are a foot or two taller than anyone else on stage. There’s something very Fasolt-and-Fafner about the effect.

The Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, which I assume is a new group, plays very well for conductor Zubin Mehta, with bright brass, uniformly appealing strings, and fine woodwinds. Mehta’s tempos are peculiarly slow, and his overall approach lacks the Klemperian tautness needed to carry off such lengths: the opera’s early, Singspiel moments have no snap at all and the opening to Act 2 and Florestan’s aria are stretched to a dead-feeling 12 minutes. He includes the Leonore Overture No. 3 before the finale as well—always a good way to break the opera’s tension. The chorus sings handsomely and accurately, but with bizarrely accented German.

By my count there are seven other DVD versions of this opera available, and this one comes somewhere near the middle because of Meier’s and Mehta’s downward drag. It certainly can’t compare with the out-of-this-world Levine-led reading from the Met with the superb Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner (in a Jurgen Flimm production that works), but it’s better than the Haitink/Glyndebourne performance despite Elisabeth Soderstrom’s Leonore. I haven’t seen the TDK set from Zurich with the remarkable Jonas Kauffman, and the Bernstein/Janowitz set on DG is in a class by itself for sheer intensity despite sonics that cannot compare with either these or Levine’s and a somewhat wooden Florestan. In brief, then, Pier’Alli’s production is major (but probably was more effective live) and so is Seiffert, but if I had to own only two, it would be Levine first and Bernstein second. Subtitles are provided in French, English, Spanish, and German. Medici Arts ignores its Italian upbringing.

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7:09:27 AM, 29 August 2015
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