The Well-Tempered Music Guy

Simple thoughts by a simple listener on classical music

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Fresh off the Bach concert, I went to see Fidelio for the first time at the Met.

I loved it. I think the opera has some problems, and Beethoven is not as his best in opera, but there's a lot of great music in there, and when it's performed as wonderfully as it was on Tuesday, it is immensely enjoyable. Mattilla is simply amazing. Her voice has the piercing power and clarity of a Nilsson or Eaglen without the cold-steel quality. Heppner is still not in his 1999 Tristan form, but he still sounded excellent. The rest of the cast was all terrific. The orchestra sounded great, and was well-conducted by Levine-sub Paul Nadler. He took the score fast and tight.

I actually had only gotten to know the piece recently through the von Karajan recording with Vickers and Dernesch. I was having trouble getting really into the opera, but now I think that's due more to the recording's faults and not the opera's. Vickers is famous for this role, but he sounds strained on the recording. Part of this may be Beethoven's strained writing (he couldn't really write for the voice -- or maybe, really, for any earthly instrument), or maybe I'm just crazy. But I just don't like him on the recording. And Dernesch is, well, Dernesch. She has such an odd voice, this artificial-sounding rapid vibrato. I wonder if she really ever existed, if maybe von Karajan created her voice in studios during post-production, like the model in that awful Pacino movie. As is the case with many of Karajan's opera recordings, the performance also sounds generally manufactured and unnatural. The microphones sound shoved down the throats of the singers, while the orchestra sounds distant and echoey, with the 2 elements brought into parity by adjustment of the levels. No actual live performance could sound like this, and you wouldn't want it to. Hearing this wonderful performance at the Met motivated me to find a better recording -- perhaps Maazel/Nilsson or Bohm/Jones, King (Gwyneth Jones is not optimal, but James King is one of my absolute favorite singers).


Blogger Clara said...

You don't like that recording? I'm making a note of it under Irreconcilable Differences.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Toren said...

Even though you're talking about Tristan, I'm afraid you might still have to make that note. I don't like that recording much either. Vickers sounds better, but everything else is kind of dull. It lacks the excitement of the Bohm/Nilsson recording. But I don't know if it's irreconcilable. Listen to the Bohm recording, you might never go back.

8:53 PM  

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