This 2 CD set of Beethoven's Fidelio was recorded live in 2006 at the Glyndebourne Festival. It was a revival of a modern-dress production originally seen in 2001 with stage direction by Deborah Warner. Although the production dated from before 9/11 and Guantánamo, by 2006 its setting in a modern prison camp certainly resonated with contemporary events. This, of course, is of no matter in this audio-only recording; one can only hope that there might be a DVD release one of these days. As for the musical values, they are first-rate. My only quibble with this release, actually, is that the sound is somewhat distant. This is corrected with a swift twist of the volume knob, but this tends also to accentuate stage noise. For those of us who often find recordings of live productions to be exciting, this is no problem, but I mention it only to warn those who are bothered by such extraneous noises as folks clumping about the stage and, of course, applause. Also, as with most live productions there are a few bobbles musically, primarily in this case some momentary loss of ensemble. That said, although the cast of singers were almost universally unknown to me, I found myself amazed at the vocal and dramatic qualities on display.
Anja Kampe is a soprano with a bright, shining sound which she is able to project brilliantly above the heft of Beethoven's orchestration when necessary. And in soft passages, as in 'Komm Hoffnung', the voice is gentle yet burnished. (And, boy, in that aria the LPO's horn section covers itself with glory!) Why have I never heard of her before? Her Florestan, Torsten Kerl, is equally effective. Their ecstatic duet 'O namenlose Freude' nearly brought me to tears (of course, Beethoven's music can do that here, but less than wonderful singing can make it more painful than anything else). Brindley Sherratt's Rocco is more genial than most and he makes Gold Aria humanly guileless rather than silly, as it often is. The young pair, Jacquino and Marzelline, are sung with spunk and genuine warmth by Andrew Kennedy and Lisa Milne. One actually cares about them in this performance. Their quartet with Sherratt and Kampe, 'Mir is so wunderbar', is stunning. Peter Coleman-Wright's Don Pizarro doesn't erase memories of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (in the Fricsay recording) but he sings the part rather than barking it. Henry Waddington is a suitably humane Don Fernando. The Glyndebourne Chorus is simply magnificent in this opera which has such musically affecting passages for it to sing. Conductor Mark Elder's many years in the pit makes him a master of the proceedings. Tempi are appropriate and masterfully managed. And of course he has the marvelous London Philharmonic as collaborators.
I did not expect this production to move me as much as it did. I don't know that it will replace the classic Klemperer recording with Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers as my favorite -- that's the one that is so deeply imprinted in my musical memory -- but it comes very near to that level. The presentation itself is classy, with a hard-bound booklet that includes a four-language libretto, and glossy pictures of the stage production.
This is a very fine modern recording of this timeless opera.