"The Maazel performance crackles with the excitement of a live performance and the singers live out the drama in a way that few others achieve. Birgit Nilsson is perhaps the most urgent reason for acquiring this set: she is a magnificent Leonore and encompasses nearly all the facets of the heroine's plights andemotions. Leonore's scena is superbly done. Her cry of 'Abscheulicher!' arises from deep loathing and horror of Pizzaro. 'Komm Hoffnung', tenderly and affectionately phrased, expresses Leonore's hope. Then she rises resplendently to the high B, which stretched many sopranos. The fast section tingles with both womanly vulnerability and heroic resolve and Nilsson crowned this wonderful performance with a full-throated high E. All said, this is an interpretation not to be missed. With the general excellence of the cast, the Vienna Philharmonic on thrilling top form for its conductor and the price, you are in for an exceptional performance of Beethoven's only opera."
A Wonderful Recording
Sheng-chi Shu | 05/05/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a thoroughly top notch recording! Birgit Nilsson makes, I feel, a great Leonora/Fidelio. The woman was a female Caruso!! As for McCracken's Florestan, WOW!! What a sound! McCracken and Vickers have to go down as my all time favorite Florestans. The other singers on this recording are also top calibre. Maazel's conducting is so passionate, so utterly Beethoven. One simply MUST have this recording in their collection. This recording is so good, it would be worth it at twice the price. If you don't have a recording of Fidelio, this would be an excellent one to own. If you already have a recording of Fidelio, this is still a good one to get. The one drawback is that there is no libretto, only synopsis notes, but at this price, who cares?"
Very solid recording!
Sean | Antioch CA | 04/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm a diehard Beethoven fan, and I'm naturally very very critical of any recording of his work. That said, I really enjoyed Lorin Maazel's handling of Beethoven's only opera.
Beethoven's main weakness was definitely lyrical music, and even in Fidelio, the main strength was the score itself, not the singing. Maazel and the Vienna Philharmoniker perform the music with power, loudness, and passion, and the musicians exemplify the strength of the opera. Not to discount the singing though. The whole cast is exceptional, with clear, rich voices. The talent was chosen well for this performance.
After listening to the big names such as Bernstein and Solti handle this work, I had a harsh basis on which to grade this Maazel recording, and so the simple fact that this CD wasn't dissapointing is high praise already.
However, it does not matter how good a performance is if the actual recording is awful (*ahem* Solti's Beethoven Piano Concertos *cough*). Thankfully, London Decca does a great job with such an old recording (1964), and the sound is clear and rich, with a minimun amount of crackling or fuzziness, and a low amount of static.
Overall, this is a very solid performance and an exceptional recording!"
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 04/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
". Source: Studio recording made at Sofiensaal, Vienna, March 1964.
Sound: Very good 1960s analogue stereo, digitally remastered in 1996. This recording was made at the height of the period when opera producers believed they must provide three dimensional sound. Voices move hither and yon on the stage and a controversial (but relatively light) reverberation was used in the dungeon scene for "realism."
Cast: Leonore / Fidelio - Birgit Nilsson; Florestan - James McCracken; Don Pizarro - Tom Krause; Papa Rocco - Kurt Boehme; Marzelline - Graziella Sciutti; Jaquino - Donald Grobe; Don Fernando - Hermann Prey; First Prisoner - Kurt Equiluz; Second Prisoner - Guenther Adam. Conductor: Lorin Maazel with the Konsertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor and the Wiener Philharmoniker.
Format: Disk 1 - Overture, track 1; Act I, tracks 2-15; 71:25. Disk 2 - Act II, tracks 1-10; 47:12.
Text: Spoken dialogue has been cropped to the bare minimum required to join the musical numbers and, frankly, I consider it to be no great loss.
Documentation: No libretto. Short summary of the plot by act. Track listing identifies parts being sung and provides timings.
"Fidelio" is Beethoven's only opera. It has never enjoyed unalloyed success and yet, now in its 201st year, it remains more firmly in the standard repertory than many highly acclaimed works.
Beethoven was a man of the concert stage, not of the theater. His opera has never been entirely happy as a theater piece. He labored long and hard over "Fidelio" because he found the plot, Leonore's boundless devotion to hapless Florestan, to be personally uplifting. Beethoven was a larger than life individual and his main characters are even more so, becoming scarcely human personifications. Leonore is intrepid faithfulness, Florestan is virtue enchained, Don Pizarro is ferocious malignancy and Don Fernando is princely benevolence. On the other hand, Papa Rocco, his daughter Marzelline and that poor chump Jaquino are lay figures out of domestic comedy. The prisoners are refugees from darkest Brechtian drama.
I have seen a number of full productions of "Fidelio" and I have seen it done in concert form. On the whole, I think it works better as an oratorio than as an opera. This is partly attributable to the disparities among the characters but even more to the rhythms of the piece. In the truly operatic operas, the music serves the drama and there is always a feeling of forward motion. This is as true of Mozart as it is of Verdi, Wagner or Strauss. In "Fidelio," the drama forever serves the music: characters remain firmly in physical and emotional place while they navigate Beethoven's magnificent musical ideas. (To my mind, the only approximation of this extraordinary stasis is the big ensemble in the middle of the last act of "Die Meistersinger.")
I know of no recorded "Fidelio" that is faultless, but this one is better than most. This is a "Fidelio" that puts the pedal to the metal. Conductor, cast, chorus and orchestra are at full power. They make no slightest gesture to please those who yearn desperately for tinkly, lightweight Beethoven on period instruments. No, indeed.
The star of the piece is the late and much missed Birgit Nilsson. She is in full hyper-soprano mode here, in a place accessible only to one other, Kirsten Flagstad. Brilliant as Christa Ludwig is on the competing, nearly contemporary Klemperer recording, I always feel that she is just the slightest bit underpowered as Leonore. (I am also astonished to discover that an earlier Amazon reviewer saw fit to admonish Nilsson for being able to sing the part of Leonore too easily. Good heavens, what next?)
In listening to this recording for the first time in a number of years, I was surprised to discover just how good James McCracken is as Florestan. Many years ago, I saw him as Canio in "Pagliacci" and as Don Jose in "Carmen." He was fine, but in those heady days, many of us--myself not least--took him for granted, just as we did Mario del Monaco. Both tenors, we thought, were too ready to go over the top. Well, today, there are all too few tenors who can even see the top, let alone go over it. The good, grey Gramophone Magazine once said, "McCracken is melodrama incarnate." Well, yes--and a good thing it is, too. As Florestan he can roar out as an equal partner to Nilsson, herself. When, bound in his dungeon, he has a vision of the Angel Leonore, he sounds practically unhinged--and I love it! His only peer as Florestan is Jon Vickers and McCracken's all-out melodrama is a salutary reply to the slightly saccharine touch provided by Vickers.
Tom Krause is good as Don Pizarro, slightly more baritonal and lyrical than Berry on the Klemperer recording but of about equal quality. Neither of them matches the sheer viciousness that was Gustav Neidlinger's stock in trade.
Kurt Boehme is a peer of Klemperer's Frick. Ideally, I want a little more warmth in the character than either offers.
Graziella Sciutti is not especially impressive in her big solo, "O waer' ich schon mit dir vereint," but she blossoms in the magnificent ensembles. Her voice blends particularly well with Nilsson's.
In the throwaway role of Jaquino, Donald Grobe is all right, but his voice is a little too thick and muscular. He sounds like a budding Lohengrin rather than a gormless, lovesick porter. If anyone had asked my guidance, I'd have moved the lighter voiced Kurt Equiluz from First Prisoner to Jaquino and made Grobe the First Prisoner. The other throwaway part is that of Don Fernando. Prey represents luxury casting, but even he can do nothing with that colorless man.
The chorus is fabulous in what must surely be part of their core repertory.
Maazel's conducting is excellent, if you are inclined toward a rather melodramatic reading of the score, especially of the overture.
Walk in the Park
L. E. Cantrell | 08/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The problem with Birgit Nilsson singing Leonore is that this normally very taxing role of Leonore is simply too easy for her!! After singing, Isolde, Brunnhilde, Salome and Elektra, Leonore is a 'piece of cake' for her as far as the vocal side goes. Sometimes, she sings it with such frightening ease that I wonder if she is rescuing her husband or taking a stroll in the park!! The end of the dungeon quartet is an example. She sings the top notes without any strain. I that some 'strain' should be in the voice for better characterization. One part of the Abscheulicher aria (the chromatic part leading to the high B in the middle of the aria) is one section that Birgit has never been able to handle (at least on records). That's because she always runs out of breath and has to 'quicken' her pace. Some flaws, but i still enjoyed her assumption. There's a CD from Gala - a Fidelio she sang with Bernstein in Rome in 1970 where she is much better and into the role - unfortunately, the sound quality is not as good. but Birgit Nilsson fans would want it and Fidelio fans would want it.Recommended: YES!! Don't forget to savour Klemperer's Fidelio with the incomparable Christa Ludwig - the best Leonore on record - on EMI! That's my favorite version. And also Fricsay's Fidelio on DG with Leonie Rysanek as Fidelio - a stunning assumption, few better. Also, Jessye Norman's Leonore (if you can find it) in modern digital sound (DDD)"