For performances at the Musikfest Bremen and the Beethovenfest Bonn, conductor Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie have prepared semi-staged performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio with dialogues replaced by Roccos Erzählung, a text written by literature historian Walter Jens for concerts conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (with Julia Varady, Peter Schreier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) in Hohenems in 1986, here spoken by German actor Wolf Kahler. Although the story as seen by Rocco’s point-of-view, with fine imagery and some political content, is interesting in itself, it is far less scenically efficient than the libretto’s own dialogues. Moreover, the fact that scenes were interrupted so that Mr. Kahler could read the text had the unwelcome effect of preventing singers from steadily developing into the theatrical action, here reduced to basic movements, no costumes and no props other than the chairs reserved for the cast. It must be mentioned that, even if there were subtitles for Jens’s text, hearing it spoken in German for foreign audiences has far less impact than for Germans, who are able to enjoy Mr. Kahler’s talents. If one has in mind he did not use a microphone, there is much to praise there in any case.
I don’t have the impression that Maestro Järvi has an extensive experience as an opera conductor, having focused his career rather in symphonic repertoire. The fact that his tempi, accents and interpretative choices were almost invariably counter-intuitive for any singer would confirm my impression. This afternoon, his conducting of Beethoven’s masterpiece was bombastic, unsubtle, unclear, messy in ensembles, problematic for his soloists and not really flattering for his rough-sounding orchestra. It was basically overfast in a very awkward manner and occasionally made slow when things got really tangled (as in Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen). As a result, the excitement was generally built from outside and did not seem an expressive feature but rather a byproduct. Truth be said, thanks also to the very commendable contribution of the chorus of the Tokyo College of Music, an exhilarating closing scene did finally pay off, earning these musicians enthusiastic applause from the audience.
The performances in Germany were supposed to have Emily Magee as Leonore, but she cancelled and was replaced by Cécile Perrin. I assume that these concerts in Yokohama might be her debut in this role. The fact that she was the only singer in the cast with her score (and the absence of any previous performance in Fidelio in her website) seem to confirm this assumption. This American soprano usually appears in jugendlich dramatisch roles, but has been flirting with heavier assignments these days. Although the percussive acuti and low notes of a legitimate dramatic soprano are really not within her possibilities, what she offers is reliable and perfectly acceptable (if not really exciting). Her asset in this role is her ability to spin clean, creamy lyrical phrasing when this is required, to excellent results in the canon quartet, for instance. Still, she needs to mature in the role. Even with her notes in hand, there were some wayward moments, most notably in her difficult aria. The role of Marzelline too had a different singer in Germany, Mojca Erdmann. For the Japanese tour, Christina Landshammer was originally announced, but finally and most felicitously replaced by South African soprano Golda Schultz. Ms. Schultz is a name to keep – she has a truly lovely velvety voice with soaring high notes on top of an irresistibly warm middle register, unfailing musicianship and sense of style and a winning personality. She was an ideal Marzelline and I hope to hear her again – and soon!
This is the first time I was able to listen to Burkhard Fritz in perfect health. When I first saw him, being indisposed didn’t prevent him from singing quite impressively. I cannot say something similar of the second time. In any case, his performance this afternoon deserves nothing but praise. He sang with good taste and sensitivity, judiciously avoided excessive heroic quality finding the right touch of vulnerability and dealt with the intricacies of the testing part of Florestan without any hint of effort. Julian Prégardien too was very well cast as Jaquino. The role of Pizarro was originally cast in Germany with Evgeny Nikitin, who must have offered a powerful performance, but would be replaced in Japan by Falk Struckmann until the name Tom Fox was finally announced. At this point in his career, the rust in his singing was entirely predictable. He still manages forceful top notes, but not really much beyond that. He is a clever singer, however, and knew to play his liabilities as characterization. Dmitri Ivaschenko (Rocco) took some time to warm up, but even then his voice sounded a bit less focused than what I used to hear from him. But that’s comparing him to himself. The tone quality was never less than pleasant and dark and he was stylish and strong in articulation as always. Finally, Detlef Roth’s baritone is a bit on the high side for the role of Don Fernando.