This Glyndebourne Opera 'Fidelio' from 1979 preserves a marvelous naturalistic production directed by Sir Peter Hall and with Bernard Haitink leading the London Philharmonic. In the cast is one of the great spinto sopranos of the day, Elisabeth Söderström, who gives us a stirring performance both musically and dramatically. She thrills us in her big first act aria 'Komm Hoffnung.' (And it must be said that the four horns who accompany her are in good form, too, although one was a little concerned because they were a bit sour in the overture. Obviously they had settled in by the time 'Komm Hoffnung' came around. Indeed that is true of the orchestra which got off to a rocky start but soon righted themselves.) The supporting cast is excellent although I did not encounter very many familiar names besides the always reliable Elizabeth Gale as Marzelline. Ian Caley's Jacquino is suitably light and flighty. Curt Appelgren's Rocco, the head jailer, was really quite wonderful. He managed to make the seemingly inappropriate paean to wealth, 'Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben' tolerable. And in the dungeon scene he was both believable and musically stalwart. Robert Allman's Don Pizarro, dressed like a little Napoleon complete with tricorn, was a suitably hateful villain, and he brought to the role a resounding bass-baritone voice. It's not easy to make Pizarro's self-aggrandizing solos believable but Allman managed to do that.
The big surprise for me was the excellent Florestan of a singer I don't recall ever hearing of before, tenor Anton de Ridder. He was rather long in the tooth for the part; the booklet notes that at the time of this performance he had already been singing thirty years at the Karlsruhe Opera. But his voice and presentation reminded me of Jon Vickers' who, of course, was a standout in the role, and being compared to Vickers is great praise indeed.
The sets and costumes are appropriate to the period in which the opera was written, rather than to 16th-century Spain (where so many late 18th and early 19th century operas were set in order to avoid the state censors' wrath); this is quite acceptable because Bouilly's play, on which 'Fidelio' is based, was taken from a set of real-life events that happened during the French Revolution.
The 'Leonore No. 3' Overture is not played before Act II in this production and that is good. I've never understood the need or even the impulse for it to be played during a performance of 'Fidelio' except that it is wonderful music. But it does tend to give away the plot with the trumpet call announcing the arrival of the opera's deus ex machina in the form of the Minister who has Pizarro arrested and Florestan set free.
Since this was originally a videotaped recording from 1978 both visual and audio fidelity are of the time. The sound is slightly congested but not distractingly so and the picture quality is acceptable. The important thing here is the production and the performance, and they are wonderful. They are not perhaps the equal of the more recent Metropolitan DVD that features Karita Mattila, René Pape and Ben Heppner under James Levine, but it costs only about 60% of that DVD, so that's a consideration.
Bottom line: Worth the investment if you're a lover of Fidelio as I am. (And I also happen to love Elisabeth Söderström as well, so that's a bonus.) I've given it four stars only because of the slightly dated audio and video, but they are not a big issue, in my opinion.
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