Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Fidelio (or Leonore), opera in two acts (2nd version, from 1806) on a libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner and Stephan von Breuning. Director: Christoph Waltz. Sets: Barkow Leibinger. Costumes: Judith Holster. Light: Henry Braham. With: Nicole Chevalier, soprano (Léonore); Mélissa Petit, soprano (Marzelline); Eric Cutler, tenor (Florestan); Christof Fischesser, bass (Rocco); Gábor Bretz, baritone (Pizarro); Benjamin Hulett, tenor (Jaquino); Károly Szemerédy, bass (Don Fernando); Arnold Schoenberg Chor (conductor: Erwin Ortner); Wiener Symphoniker, conductor: Manfred Honeck. Director: Felix Breisach. 1 DVD Unitel Edition. Recorded live in 2020 at the Theater an der Wien. Duration: 130 min.
A staging by Christoph Waltz a little overwhelmed by an imposing setting, but a completely convincing cast for what is actually the second version of Beethoven’s opera Leonore.
The work presented here under the title of Fidelio (version 1806) is actually the second version of the opera generally known as the Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe, this work premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1805 and then resumed the following year in a shortened version compressed into two acts. It is this version, which announces more or less the final version while displaying a vocal writing still marked by the Belcantist tradition, which serves as the basis for the filmic capture offered here, shot in the theater which had seen in 1805 the creation of Leonore. The year 2020, which was to triumphantly celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, should have seen in the city of Vienna the production of three versions of the great composer’s unique opera. The coronavirus, alas, will have wanted it otherwise.
It was therefore without an audience that Christoph Waltz’s staging was filmed, housed in the impressive decor of Barkow Leibinger, of which our columns were already praising, on the occasion of the televised broadcast of the opera, the glacial and imposing beauty. We can only confirm here the lack of imagination of a direction of actors reduced to its simplest expression, but of which we are told in the presentation text of the DVD that it is supposed to illustrate a cinematographic conception of the work. . Perhaps more close-ups, as well as a less overwhelming and suffocating setting, would have made it possible to better create the dramatic atmosphere specific to this work which, it must be said, is sorely lacking here.
The spectator will however be able to console themselves with the beautiful musical performance, even if the DVD market is rich in vocal interpretations more striking than those offered here. Eric Cutler and Nicole Chevalier nonetheless form a rather convincing central couple, the latter managing to reconcile the vocal heroism demanded by his role with a much more lyrical writing than that of the well-known version of 1814. Their duet “ O namenlose Freude »Of the second act, much more developed than in the final version, is the indubitable proof. The soprano Mélissa Petit also cuts a fine figure in Marzelline, even if her Gallic inflections in the spoken dialogue reflect her French origins. Benjamin Hulett is at his side a Jaquino less stupid and less cutesy, almost threatening, than all those we usually hear. Of the three low voices, we prefer the rich and supple bass of Christof Fischesser in Rocco, with the more cavernous accents of baritone Gábor Bretz in Pizzaro, the Fernando of Károly Szemerédy not really having the opportunity to impose himself.
The performance of the other great Viennese phalanx can be found on other DVDs, but the Wiener Symphoniker deliver, under the precise and sharp baton of conductor Manfred Honeck, a fair and coherent reading of the work. The Arnold Schoenberg choir is a great luxury in this particularly demanding score that we have so much pleasure to hear again over the years, and which makes bitterly regret all the productions of Beethoven’s masterpiece which have been canceled in recent months.
Leonore by René Jacobs and the Freiburger Barockorchester
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