John P McKelvey
American Record Guide
, September 2010
The Blu-Ray absolutely requires a dedicated Blu-Ray player; there’s no alternate layer of data playable on a regular DVD outfit. Since the regular DVD edition offers a magnificent display of saturated color and razor-sharp clarity, I would not recommend going for a Blu- Ray player at this time. Our review was delayed by the refusal of both my systems to play anything past the first 45 minutes of the program because the DVD was visibly flawed. Naxos, the domestic supplier, sent a replacement that was in perfect condition. In fact, it’s of magnificent quality, musically as well as technically.
Beethoven’s only operatic work has the musical substance one would expect from the composer. It is one of his finest works, though it poses many problems of arrangement and staging. Beethoven wrote at least four overtures—Leonore I, II, and III—works of increasing length, difficulty, and quality. Finally, he gave up and wrote a short, insouciant, 7- minute piece that he called the Fidelio Overture. But the three great Leonores are still around, and there’s a change of scene before the final celebratory scene where most conductors, including Bernard Haitink, fill the time with the thrilling and intense Leonore III. This clearly violates Beethoven’s intent, but he’s no longer around to object.
Bernard Haitink is somewhat unpredictable, but when he’s on top form, he can be very good. He recently gave us, with the LSO on their label, the worst Beethoven Fifth in captivity: loud, excessively fast, coarse, onedimensional—an exercise in overkill.
The conductor must supply a sonic frame for the action in this complex, swift-moving, and intense work. Haitink is on his best form. His leadership is manifest in the tempos in the overtures as well as the drama proper—tempos that range from incisive in purely orchestral scenes to more relaxed in the drama itself, tempos that do not challenge the virtuosity of the singers but allow them to display their vocal richness and color most favorably.
The singing cast ranges from at least satisfactory to really excellent. Jaquino, Leonore (Fidelio), Rocco, and Marzelline, sung by Cristoph Strehl, Melanie Diener, Alfred Muff, and Sandra Trattnigg, are all splendid, vocally and dramatically.
Lucio Gallo as Pizarro comes close to stealing the whole show. All the other cast members are attired in costumes typically early 19th Century, Beethoven’s time. Pizarro enters in a white business suit and white overcoat, looking much like a Chicago mobster in the 1920s. His singing and acting reinforce this picture; his voice is strong, forceful, and totally convincing. His performance of the great opening aria, ‘Ha, Welch ein Augenblick’, is about as strong and thrilling as any on records...The sets are conventional, but well rendered and authentic in appearance. The chorus is effective and the orchestra is large in size and very good in all respects. The filming is excellent and supports the action flawlessly. The colors are rich and true, and the focus is sharp and clear. The aspect ratio is 16:9. Subtitles in English, French, or German can be summoned. The sound, in regular 2-channel stereo or 5-channel surround is clear, undistorted, and natural. This was an actual performance, and there is occasional applause that isn’t frequent or prolonged enough to be annoying. It all works in harmony to generate one of the best recordings of Fidelio available in any format.