on June 23, 2004
I can't recall the first time I ever heard this score, since after a single listen I didn't want to hear it again (my apologies to those who adore it). Perhaps I fell into the myth of "this is Beethoven's only opera and you can see why" that some promote.
In any case, it was only years later that I happened to see this production on PBS, and completely fell in love with it. Jürgen Flimm's towering gray walls seem destined for controversy, despite being handsomely designed and admirably well-suited for the story. The set may be grim to some, but to my eyes it provides a neutral background against which Karita Mattila and the rest of the cast emerge in vivid colors.
Mattila is splendid in the lead role, and just sings and acts up a storm. (I doubt anyone on the operatic stage has ever eaten a banana with more aplomb.) Ben Heppner is also terrific, as are René Pape, Robert Lloyd, Jennifer Welch-Babidge and Matthew Polenzani. Only Falk Struckmann, to me, disappoints slightly with some forced-sounding tone, but even he summons such stage presence that I didn't really mind. This is one of the best-acted operatic productions I've seen in quite awhile.
James Levine gives a fleet performance of the score and draws magnificent playing out of the Met Orchestra, which has been praised to the skies and justifiably so. The Met Chorus, attired in Florence von Gerkan's atmospherically gray uniforms, also gives its heartfelt all, especially in the renowned "Prisoner's Chorus" that should stir even the most apathetic of viewers.
The sound quality on the DVD is superb. The filming, by Brian Large, puts you right in the middle of the action when needed, but with plenty of long shots of the large group numbers, which are thrillingly staged. Highly recommended for many reasons.
on June 25, 2004
When Act 2 of Fidelio is being poured out in the most glorious tones imaginable from Mattila, Heppner and Pape - who can possibly complain? Who would honestly want to replace any of them? Who can fail to be overwhelmed with gratitude to own this disc?
If I continue to count our blessings, I might mention the splendid Robert Lloyd drawing us to a thrilling finale as Don Fernando; and Falk Struckmann a convincingly evil Pizarro.
So it is certainly not complaining, but fulfilling a reviewer's obligation to tell all, when I admit that Jennifer Welch-Babidge is little more than adequate as Marzelline. One might wish for a purer vocal line in this role - like a Bonney or an Isokoski.
The production has a few eccentricities that don't quite work. I could pick holes, but to be fair the production as a whole functions well enough, and with singing - and, in most cases, acting - like this, who cares?
Brian Large's cameras are always where you want them. Sound is DTS 5.1; Dolby 5.1 or Stereo. Menu is in English only. Subtitles in German; English; French; Spanish and Chinese.
Don't worry, you won't regret it.
on April 17, 2004
The Met has surpassed itself once again - here's my review for its recently released Otello. You must buy THAT Otello and THIS Fidelio.
I have just finished watching this stunning performance of Otello. The performance is so incredible that I feel absolutely compelled to write this review.
The biggest glory of this set is the absolutely stunning portrayal of the moor Otello by Placido Domingo. I've never been a huge Domingo fan (although I certainly respect him greatly). I tend to think that he has his fingers in too many pies. But this performance has changed my view completely. Domingo is not only vocally in superb form, his intense dramatic portrayal is electrifying! He loses all self-consciousness on stage and becomes Otello - there is no hint that he even thinks he is singing in an opera, he is so absolutely consumed by the role. Every expression on his face is under his absolute control. This is one of the most gripping portrayal of an operatic character I've ever seen. In this performance, Domingo absolutely blasts everyone else away - Fleming, Morris, Croft....
The second glory of this set is the absolutely ravishing soprano of Renee Fleming. Renee Fleming is also very much into her character. It is somewhat cruel to juxtapose Fleming's Desdemona with Domingo's towering Otello. Because you sense that Fleming's characterization is weaker than Domingo's. But that doesn't mean that Fleming cannot act - just that Domingo is simply too good in this role. In any case, Fleming's dramatic portrayal is also very intense - you feel and see her emotions and sorrow throughout the opera. She is a picture of chaste innocence in Act 1. In Act 2, her shock and grief are palpable. In Act 3, she gives Desdemona a somewhat stronger character than usual when Desdemona denies any marital infidelity. Her sorrow is heart-rending when Domingo accuses her of infidelity and finally, curses her at the end of Act 3. In Act 4, her Willow Song and prayer tugs at your heart strings. To top it all, Fleming's voice is absolutely ravishing. In some of her recent recordings, she has adopted some mannerisms. NOT SO DOWN HERE. She sings beautifully, and her singing projects her emotions but she does not overdo things nor does she engage in some of the somewhat irritating mannerisms of late.
James Morris is an excellent Iago. He acts well but certainly falls a little short of Fleming's or Domingo's intensity. Nevertheless, he is vocally excellent.
I like Cassio here. Not only is he really handsome, he is very much into his character and he is vocally in superb form.
The set, by Elijah Moshinsky, captures the Shakespearen atmosphere superbly. It is the exact same set (with very minor changes) as the 1992 Convent Garden Otello with Solti, Domingo, Kanawa and Serkus. It is a fantastic set.
James Levine's conducting is also superb. The tension never slacks and the drama keeps flowing.
An exceptionally fantastic production from the Metropolitan opera.
I've been following the recent Met releases - Fidelio with Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner, Tristan and Isolde with Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner. And now this Otello with Domingo and Fleming. The Metropolitan Opera has really surpassed itself with all these 3 releases. They are all the best I've ever seen.
The 1998 production of Samson Et Dalila with Domingo & Olga Borodina ia scheduled for release in June 2004. I'm looking forward to it.
Also, the Met has actually videotaped Karita Mattila's stunning 2004 Salome. Because of lack of funding, it is stil waiting to be broadcast. But why wait? Every opera fan should WRITE IN TO THE MET and ASK THEM TO RELEASE IT IMMEDIATELY.
Go to the Met Website and find their contact email, and WRITE IN AT ONCE to ask them to release this incredible 2004 Salome.
In addition, The Met has videotaped the 2003 Ariadne Auf Naxos (Deborah Voigt) and the 2001 Wozzeck - all awaiting telecast due to lack of funding. Write in to tell them we want these on DVD. Show them our support.
Yes, don't even think about not buying this DVD!! In fact don't even think about not buying the Met 2001 Fidelio or Met 1999 Tristan and Isolde. These are already classics!!!
on April 8, 2004
This production of FIDELIO by Jurgen Flimm premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in October 2000 and was telecast in December 2002. Although certain critics have disliked Flimm's staging, I think that it is a good example of intelligent updating. Unlike (for example) TOSCA (another opera about tyranny and torture), FIDELIO's libretto contains no specific historical references; the story could just as well take place in the twentieth century as in the eighteenth (the era in which it is traditionally set). Indeed, it has become popular in recent years to set FIDELIO during the World War II era. In Flimm's version, the action appears to take place during the 1930's or 1940's, in a police state. But even this is not very specific (no one wears a Nazi uniform, for instance), giving the viewer room to use his or her imagination while watching the performance.
I find it interesting that, while well-known critics moan about Flimm's work, nearly all of the reviewers on this site comment first on the music and the singing, THEN on the production. And truly it is the music that communicates, first and foremost. The cast of this FIDELIO is stellar and in superb voice. Karita Mattila, possessor of a luminous and penetrating dramatic soprano, is also one of today's finest operatic actresses. Thus it makes sense that her Leonore - when in the guise of "Fidelio" - is an ACTRESS playing the role of a young man; she plays her part well, too (watch her flirt with Marzelline at her first entrance). Elsewhere, Mattila conveys Leonore's anxiety and sadness in voice, expression, and gesture. She sings her aria with both intensity (in "Aubscheulischer!") and quiet poignancy (in "Komm, Hoffnung"). Ben Heppner likewise gives a deeply felt performance, not least in his dialogue with Rocco when he pleads for a drink of water. As usual, his singing is as remarkable for its beauty as for its power. Baritone Falk Struckmann, with his powerful, malevolent sound, sings a chillingly evil Don Pizarro. Rocco is, in this production, more middle-aged than elderly. Perhaps it is not entirely believable that this relatively young-looking man would need Fidelio's assistance in digging a grave; but the conception of the character is surely a more helpful one for the young bass Rene Pape. He sings throughout with firm, rich tone and perfect legato, and he really shines in a light-hearted rendition of his "Money Aria" ("Hat man nicht auch Gold beneiben"). Jennifer Welch-Babidge and Matthew Polenzani interact well and make fine vocal contributions as Marzelline and Jaquino. The always-outstanding Robert Lloyd is noble and dignified as Don Fernando, who administers justice at the end of the opera.
James Levine's tempi are on the fast side (unusual for him, as he normally favors weightier tempi), but his affection for and experience with FIDELIO shows. This luxuriously cast, intelligently updated production compels attention as a FIDELIO for our own era.
on February 24, 2004
Con la llegada de este 'Fidelio' en dvd, esta opera de Beethoven vee la que es la mejor de sus versiones visuales con diferencia. El cast esta encabezado por una KARITA MATTILA impresionante por medios vocales (¡como canta su aria del acto I!) y por adecuacion escenica al personaje de Fidelio-Leonore. Sobresaliente para ella. El segundo sobresaliente se lo lleva el Don Pizarro de FALK STRUCKMAN, adecuadisimo a su personaje en lo fisico y en lo vocal. Fantástico. El tercer sobresaliente se lo lleva la soprano JENNIFER WELCH-BABIDGE, que consigue una Marzelline soberbia en lo vocal y coqueta en lo escenico. Bravisima. Notable para el Rocco de RENE PAPE, quiza algo joven de mas para hacer creible el papel en lo fisico, pero con muy interesantes medios en lo vocal. Otro notable para ROBERT LLOYD, un autentico lujo para Ferrando. Bien el Florestan de BEN HEPPNER (que mejora un poco tras un aria de entrada bastante discreta) y suficiente para la pequeña voz de MATHEW POLENZANI como Jaquino.
A buen nivel los cuerpos estables del Met, bajo la batuta de un JAMES LEVINE que impone tempos mas bien rapidos.
Muy interesante, inteligente y lograda la puesta en escena de JURGEN FLIMM, cuya actualizacion ayuda a la historia a ganar credibilidad.
En resumen, uno de los mejores dvd de cuantos han aparecido recientemente en el mercado. De compra obligatoria.
on February 13, 2004
Fidelio is not an opera. It is Beethoven. There is also a curious fact associated with Fidelio. And that's this - it is a very difficult opera to bring off - both on record and in the theatre. But ... when one does bring it off (so to speak), the result is always a towering monument to Beethoven's genius.
There are very few outstanding recordings of Fidelio but the outstanding ones always blow you away with the music. Just listen to Otto Klemperer's Classic 1962 Fidelio. Now at long last, we have a DVD-Video that can complement Klemperer's legendary set. This 2000 Metropolitan Opera performance blows every single Fidelio video away. It is the best performance of Fidelio ever captured on DVD. Even if you just look at the audio alone, it is a performance that is on par with Klemperer's 1962 performance. We are a lucky generation.
Whether you like opera, or just Beethoven, or just Fidelio, or just music, this set is indispensable!! You must have it in your collection. I am not surprised that the Metropolitan Opera chose this 2000 performance over its other performances as the first in a series of new DVD-Video releases with Deutsche Grammophon.
By the way, the famous Metropolitan 1999 Tristan Und Isolde featuring Jane Eaglen and Ben Hppner is out!! Delivers on Mar 9. Search for it on Amazon and buy it up too!!
on January 29, 2004
I'll join in the fun!! I must say I agree that Mattila is amazing at the end. Her singing is so fresh that if you walked into the opera house at the end, you would not have known that she had been singing some really taxing music for the past 1 hour or so. And I agree that if the singer can sing - WHO REALLY CARES about the physique! It helps if the singer is slim.
I've heard Eaglen 'live'. Her voice is HUGE!! When she unleashes the full power of her voice, she can lift you off your seat!! I believe she has the most powerful dramatic soprano voice since Birgit Nilsson, only it is warmer than Nilsson. And yes, the 1999 Met Tristan Und Isolde IS coming out. The Deutsche Grammophon website says January 2004 but I think there may be a delay. This 2000 Met Fidelio was slated for Oct 2003 but finally released online only in Nov 2003. So GOOD NEWS for opera lovers, look out for the Met 1999 Tristan in Feb 2004 or Mar 2004. Yes, finally BOTH Tristan AND Isolde captured in their prime. (On record, Nilsson is always singing with a weak Tristan, and Vickers with a weak Isolde - when Nilsson & Vickers come together, teh engineers had to ruin things by producing a horrid sound quality. Varnay and Flagstad were legends but they never recorded it in stereo). So the upcoming Tristan Und Isolde is one of the most eagerly anticipated ever!!!
One more good news. The 1995 Met Otello telecast featuring Placido Domingo as Otello and Renee Fleming as Desdemona is also coming out!!! It should come out Mar 2004.
FINALLY, after years of many lousy recordings flooding the market, we have all these SUPERB performances coming out from the Met next to each other.
One can only hope that they tape down Karita Mattila's Salome at the Met this year! Some people say it is the best since Ljuba Welitsch!!
Oooops! I realized I should be reviewing Fidelio. Well, let me just confirm the positive comments of all the reviewers before me. And yes, if you like opera, DON'T even THINK about not getting this Fidelio.
on January 26, 2004
I also saw the broadcast, and I would echo the previous reviews, and add a few points.
First of all, Mattila. Lord. What amazed me most of all from this very committed performance is her singing at the END of the opera -- you would have no clue that this woman had just finished one of the most punishing roles in the repertoire.
Re the comments on Heppner: You know, the singing IS the acting. It is the unique thrill and excitement of the human voice that brings these characters to life. There are many more opera singers throughout history who couldn't act half of what Heppner brought to his role, much less fit the supposed physical requirements. People! Hello! If physique were actually important, we would have to throw out as unimportant all the contributions of Pavarotti, Caballe, Eaglen, Voigt, not to mention the greats of other times like Caruso, Gigli ... the list is impossibly long. Enough said.
Finally, the aforementioned hopefully upcoming DVD of Tristan from the Met would have to be shelved, because the combined weight of the two stars easily tops 600 pounds -- and who the hell cares? It was the most eagerly anticipated Tristan of a generation, because here were two singers that could really do justice to the demands of the roles.
Bring on Eaglen and Heppner!
on January 19, 2004
When this Fidelio was broadcast, I actually wrote in to the MET begging them to release it either on DVD or on CD. Now my dreams have come true!! Truly, this is one of the great Fidelios on record not so much for the sets but more for the singing!! The sets are fine. I think they are wonderful but personally I would have preferred the time setting to be during Beethoven's time - early 19th century. But this time setting works as well, simply because of the intensity of the acting and singing. Sometimes, when singers sing intensely, they lose vocal control and everything goes out of pitch of out of tune. Not so here!
Yes, the glory of this set is the singing, the acting, Levine's conducting - in fact everything. Except perhaps the chorus in the finale which doesn't really lift the spirit as it should. but that doesn't really dent the performance. Marzelline and Jacquino are well-cast. Rene Pape shows why Birgit Nilsson thought so highly of him and gave him the first Birgit Nilsson prize. Pizarro is suitably nasty - acting and singing are excellent. Ben Heppner is too well-endowed but his singing and acting is so intense, after a while you are totally immersed in the drama and you don't notice.
However, the greatest glory of this set is the flawless soprano of Karita Mattila!! In the murderous role of Leonore, Mattila triumphs and triumphs magnificently!! Leonore is a notoriously difficult role. The singer is on stage most of the time, and the singing is taxing. From the start, she has to sing a quarter, a trio then an extraordinarily difficult aria which few sopanos are able to pull off well. Then she sings in the finale of Act 1. All the while, the tessitura gets higher and higher (esp in her Act 1 aria where she has 2 exposed high B's), and the leaps and intervals are big and awkward, not to mention that she has to sing loud and do short coloratura. Then Act 2 begins, she starts in a duet, then a trio, then the dungeon quartet, then she sings a duet with Florestan (where she has 2 high B's side by side). And then the finale (another high B). Mattila's high B's are rock solid. Birgit Nilsson herself said that Beethoven didn't make things easy for the voice, Leonore has to sing long stretches of music at a very high tessitura in a part of the voice that even Nilsson found difficult!!! But Mattila does it all and does it flawlessly.
I am in the expensive habit of collecting Fidelios. I have heard all the most famous Fidelios in the market - Birgit Nilsson's 4 versions (!), Kirsten Flagstad's 2 versions (!), Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig's 4 versions including her famous Klemperer version(!), Jessye Norman, Inga Nielsen, Leonie Rysanek, Waltraud Meier, Hildegard Behrens. I can definitely say that Mattila ranks with the best!! She can hold her own with Christa Ludwig, Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek or Kirsten Flagstad.
Fidelio rarely gets a good recording - the 1962 Klemperer set is still the best!! And it is rare that singers in their prime is captured on record with all the inspiration of the moment. If you like Fidelio, don't do yourself a disservice. Go and get a copy!! Also, buying this will encourage the Met to release more of their treasures!! I'm looking forward to Jane Eaglen's & Ben Heppner's 1999 Tristan Und Isolde.
on March 21, 2004
This is already a classic!! To the reviewer below, Mattila and Pape are not only the future, they are the present. Look at Mattila's growing list of towering achievements - Countess (Mozart - Figaro), Fiordiligi (Mozart - Cosi Fan Tutte), Donna Elvira & Donna Anna (Mozart - Don Giovanni) Eva (Wagner - Die Meistersingers), Chrysothemis (Strauss - Elektra), Elisabeth (Verdi - Don Carlo), Jenufa (Janacek), Leonore (Beethoven - Fidelio), Salome (Strauss)... many more not included here. Plus she is slated to do Isolde at Convent garden in 2007/08....
So yes, Mattila is the present AND the future. So is Pape who is one of those consistently great bass-baritones around. Heppner is the greatest Tristan alive today.
The recently released Tristan Und Isolde of 1999 featuring Jane Eaglen & Ben Heppner is also a classic. Don't miss that!!
Thank you Met for finally releasing these crown jewels of opera on DVD!!