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Beethoven Fidelio Haitink/Hall Glyndebourne 1979

Elisabeth Söderström, Curt Appelgren, Elizabeth Gale, Robert Allman, Anton De Ridder
Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Haitink,
stage direction by Peter Hall

Arthaus DVD 101 099

This videoed performance declares its "historic" provenance in the overture, with alarming fluffs by the horns (twice!) which remind us what a fickle instrument the French horn still was in the mid-20th C.

The LPO of today would not have such problems, and anyhow they'd be eliminated by retakes and patching from different performances.

Forget all that; it is great to be back in John Christie's old barn-like Glyndebourne opera house, and the small stage is very suitable for the confined prison environment. John Bury's stage design and lighting provide a perfect setting for Peter Hall's notable production (I guess he wasn't Sir Peter then) and Bernard Haitink was already at the height of his powers a quarter of a century ago.

The chief roles are in the safe hands of the great Elisabeth Söderström, whose diverse repertoire (including all the Janacek heroines with MacKerras) are one of the treasures of recorded opera history, and Anton de Ridder's stage presence, with a rich and expressive voice, made the crucial rescue of Florestan convincing and moving.

Curt Applegren brought out the equivocation of his role as a minor functionary, and Elizabeth Gale is a particular delight as his besotted daughter taken in by cross dressing and temporarily diverted from her adoring swain, the more suitable Ian Caley.... A distinct weakness is Robert Allman, his voice somewhat muted at his first villainous appearance, but improving later.

Traditional a production, maybe, but one faithful to the way Beethoven intended the opera to be mounted. The original stage directions are followed exactly by Sir Peter. It is all scrupulously thought through and achieved with the benefit of Glyndebourne's extended rehearsal arranagements.

The filming is good and it held our attention unwaveringly. This is a Fidelio to be reckoned with against later competitors, worth a place in anyone's collection and, at £14.99 from Amazon, excellent value too.

For an ultimate experiment in realising music of olden times with contemporary technological wizardry see Spem in Alium


© Peter Grahame Woolf