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"It's not often that you find an opera on DVD that has it all---great singing, great conducting, great orchestral support, and a production that doesn't make you wince when you see it. This recording of Fidelio---Beethoven's only opera---does have it all, and it's not only the best production of the work on DVD, but has to be among the best in terms of all opera on DVD that is available right now.
To start with, the singers are all top notch; Gundula Janowitz is in the title role, and while her voice does strain some (whose wouldn't singing Fidelio?), she sings with great technique, passion, pathos, and does it all while acting the role, too (something too often neglected). She brings Fidelio/Leonora to life and shows the emotions of being so close to her near-dead husband in one of the best portayals I've seen on stage. The rest of the cast shines, too; Rene Kollo lands his Act II aria with perfection and plays a great Florestan; Hans Sotin is a heavier Pizarro than some may be used to, but his voice soars through the house and he plays a perfect villain, if not somewhat more anxious than evil; Manfred Jungwirth as the old jailer Rocco provides a steady, firm presence on stage, and a young Lucia Popp as Marzelline sings beautifully as well. It should also be mentioned that this opera is extremely difficult for all singers involved, and while it might have been easy for them to just give the stand and sing treatment, they don't--everyone acts well, and truly brings drama to what is both a harrowing and exciting story.
The production is a traditional one; for those looking at the Met production done a few years ago, this may be a major factor in deciding. Both are extremely high in musical quality, and some people would prefer Karita Mattila as Fidelio to Gundula Janowitz, but the Met's is a modern production (although not a distasteful one---it is done very well).
Some of the other reviewers have noted that the real star of this DVD is Leonard Bernstein. The camera finds him frequently, and as has been mentioned, during the Leonora Overture #3 (which is often not performed) the camera is almost exclusively on him and his bouncing around. But that is what is great about this recording: there is unbridled energy. I mean, there is a ridiculous amount of energy; Bernstein keeps things moving along, the orchestra play like gods, and you can feel the atmosphere from just watching it. The crowd was treated to a perfect performance and they REALLY show their appreciation--Berstein had to turn around four times before the bravos would even think about stopping after Leonora #3.
Technically, Deutsche Grammophon comes through again. The audio is great and the video is clear; there are optional subtitles in five languages, and a few extra features.
Overall, if you're looking for the best Fidelio out there right now, go with this one. You'll love it."
A Most Excellent Performance!
Sacramento Johnson | 01/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm a big fan of "Fidelio" and about a year ago I went looking for a decent DVD of it. I looked over what was commercially available and was less than impressed with the offerings. I eventually came across some 'bootleg' copies including this VSO performance (with Japanese subtitles)and found it to be terrific, even with that poor quality transfer. When this commercial edition came out, with its superb audio and visual quality,(with subtitles available in multiple languages and only if wanted)I picked it up immediately! The cast brings a surprizing amount of intensity to their performances, and Otto Schenk, the director, did a marvelous job, in my opinion, in getting some very detailed and moving performances out of them! The leads also sing well and look credible in their roles (a nice benefit when watching a film!) and the staging is intelligent and traditional. L. Bernstein conducts with enthusiasim and insight and the Vienna Philharmonic (the VSO 'pit' orchestra!) responds with verve and beauty! (There is a CD recording with most of the the same cast out on DG label; that is a studio recording made several weeks after this performance was taped.) If you're a fan of "Fidelio", or even just interested in seeing how Beethoven met(and triumped over!)the unique challenges of the opera genre in his only operatic venture, then do check this DVD out!"
Pretty darn close to having "it all"
harmless drudge | Philadelphia, PA | 01/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am a big fan of Fidelio; own a couple of dozen recordings (don't tell my family). Why the love for this work? First, it's Beethoven in symphonic glory; energy in every bar. Second, the story is uplifting, both as a morality tale and as a struggle populated with decent folk who reach beyond themselves for one another. This production is a gala affair; the sets are traditional (evocative of 18th-19th century Spain); the lighting is bright, so colors are good and one can see all of the action. Singers are generally well chosen and perform admirably. However, at this point, slight reservations creep in; although Janowitz (Fidelio/Leonore) and Kollo (Florestan) look "good" and act well, the singing parts tax them a bit when pushed to the limit. Most of the time that doesn't matter, and an argument can be made that a little vocal strain is in character with their dire plight. Ideally, for me, Vickers as Florestan would have added extra vocal heft and more sensitive acting than Kollo. (As an example, Kollo looks appropriately spent at the beginning of Act 2; but once rescued, he appears as energetic as any other character; seems to me he should still show some evidence of exhaustion throughout the scene.) Similarly, Janowitz is sweet voiced, but in the "big moments" when she is called on for a more dramatic voice (a la Nilsson), she doesn't quite have it. A final bit of performer carping (albeit minor): Sotin's Pizarro is a bit anemic; a "blacker", fuller voice would have been preferable to my ears. And, of course, there is Bernstein. He leads an energetic performance (as usual); he includes the Leonore 3 overture between the dungeon scene and the finale. As seems to be the norm in opera broadcasts, the camera is on Bernstein throughout most of the overture and Leonore 3; this obsession with the conductors and their manic behavior (Bernstein)or comic humming (Levine)can be distracting. If you don't like it, close your eyes. Actually, I kind of enjoy seeing Bernstein hop around like many of us laymen conducting in the privacy of our homes. (One woman in the first row behind Bernstein suppresses a smile a couple of times.) Overall, this is the best dvd of Fidelio out there. Quick comparison to MET dvd since that's probably the most realistic competitor: for the MET production the setting has been modernized with no loss in impact; Mattila and Heppner have a bit more "chops" than Janowitz and Kollo, but I prefer the latter overall as vocal actors. Comparison of the other roles is a toss up for me. Orchestras are about even, but I prefer Bernstein's more energetic treatment of the score and his inclusion of Leonora 3."
From Heaven Itself
Pupil | Malkuth | 02/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Each time I revisit this work, I grow more and more convinced that it is among Beethoven's most beautiful and profound. In fact, I had never wept so much like an absolute baby prior to viewing this blessing of a DVD...
I won't say much except that this is the greatest production of Fidelio I have ever experienced. It is beautifully traditional, the acting is especially moving, and Bernstein is at his most solemn and inspired. It is infinitely suprior to the recent MET production, which is rather tasteless and shameful in comparison.
I would like to thank the Master Beethoven for leaving us with this work."
BERNSTEIN LEADS A GREAT PERFORMANCE
Jesse Knight | woburn ma usa | 04/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This performance is far more than the sum of it's parts. Several reviews have found valid things to complain about. Janowitz has not got quite a big enough voice for Leonora, yet she brings a humanity to the role that evaded Flagstad and Nilsson. Benackova has the voice for Leonora, but is not visually credible. Benackova is wonderful as the Bartered Bride. If we accept the concept that Leonora is a real person who is an extension of the mythical Pamina in the Magic Flute, a smaller voiced Leonora becomes very credible. Read Zizek and Dolar- Opera's Second Death. Janowitz was my favorite Pamina until I heard Hartelius.
Popp is possibly the greatest Marzelline ever, making this DVD a great tribute to her tragically short life. The men are very credible in their roles as well. Audiophiles will find the sound a bit colored with a small degree of dynamic compression, but no distortion. Most people I suspect will find nothing about the sound to complain about, as it is good sound even by more recent standards. Only the chorus is muddy sounding in places.
Personally I feel that Bernstein and Furtwangler owned this opera. Both Conductors made studio recordings of Fidelio. Bernstein in the studio is more cautious, and of course all the minor flubbed notes have been replaced by retakes. As good as the studio recording is, This live DVD has an electric atmosphere that no studio recording can create, even if we ignore the picture. Picture quality is excellent, far better than my expectation. Video directing is also very good. There is no regietheater. Marzelline uses a old fashion iron, which does not have a line cord. Rocco does not take pictures with a "one use" flash camera. There are no communist era uniforms either. I for one enjoy some regietheater productions but have yet to find a regietheater version that holds a candle to this traditional production.
As one who attended many Bernstein concerts at the then Philharmonic Hall in New York, I cannot think of a better way to grasp the excitment he brought to music. Highly recommended and long overdue DVD."