Image Entertainment presents
Marzelline: "He must be a terrible criminal."
Rocco: "Or have terrible enemies; it comes to the same thing."- Marie McLaughlin, Robert Lloyd
Stars: Gabriel Benackova, Josef Protschka
Other Stars: Neill Archer, Marie McLaughlin, Robert Lloyd, Monte Pederson, Hans Tschammer, Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi
Director: Derek Bailey
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:04m:10s
Release Date: 2001-02-20
DVD ReviewLudwig van Beethoven only completed one opera, but it took him three tries over ten years. Originally begun in 1804 as Leonore, it premiered in 1805 in a three-act version but was immediately shut down. After substantial revisions, it was revived as a two-act opera in 1806 and was quite unsuccessful. Finally, in 1814 Beethoven made additional changes and retitled the opera Fidelio, and it is in this form that it has come down to us as one of the greatest operas. Despite being saddled with a poorly structured and often silly libretto, it contains some of Beethoven's most exquisite music.
The action takes place in a prison near Seville. The chief officer of the prison is Rocco (Robert Lloyd), who lives there with his daughter Marzelline (Marie McLaughlin). Rocco has two assistants, Jaquino (Neill Archer) and Fidelio (Gabriela Benackova). Jaquino is in love with Marzelline, who in turn is in love with Fidelio. Unbeknownst to any of them, Fidelio is actually a woman, Leonore, who has come to the prison to seek out her husband, Florestan (Josef Protschka), who is a political prisoner. The commander, Don Pizarro (Monte Pederson), hates Florestan, and when he hears that the king's minister, Don Fernando, is coming for an inspection, decides that Florestan must be eliminated once and for all.
The structure of the story is definitely wanting. A great deal of time is spent on the irrelevant Jaquino/Marzelline subplot. Not until Don Pizarro enters the story halfway through the first act does anything begin to be interesting. Florestan doesn't appear at all until well over halfway through the opera, depriving the viewer of any sort of suspense. The climax comes too soon, and is followed by a lengthy and overwritten finale singing the praises of a faithful wife. Psychological analysts have seized on this theme in Beethoven's life, given his unhappy history with romance, and given its prominence here, there might be something to the theory.
The singing and the acting in this production are first-rate throughout. Indeed, Marie McLaughlin as Marzelline is so charming and full of life and enthusiasm that I very nearly was willing to accept the pointless Jaquino/Marzelline subplot. Josef Protschka is in fine voice as Florestan, but is a little too robust to believably be a prisoner held in a dungeon for two years. Robert Lloyd is good as Rocco, and Monte Pederson makes a wonderful Pizarro, sneering and essentially loathsome. Throughout there is clever use of stage business to hold the viewer's interest, making this DVD a clear step above listening to the opera on CD. For instance, the prisoners, when allowed into the sunny courtyard at the end of the first act, believably are seen groping into the light.
The singing is exceptionally clear and well-defined. In particular, in the quartet Mir ist so Wunderbar, there is extraordinary clarity and definition to what often sounds like a ball of mush.
The sets are minimalist (the only detail of note is the caged canary kept by Marzelline, a nice echo of Florestan's imprisonment). The costumes are gorgeous though utilitarian; the colors stand out wonderfully.
In all, this is an excellent production that belongs in the collection of any classical music lover.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 picture is quite clear and sharp. Colors are excellent, with the blue and reds of the jailers' uniforms are dazzling in particular. Black levels are quite good for a live stage production; at the beginning of Act II, in the dungeons, the blacks are solid and excellent. No edge enhancement or artifacting is visible. A very nice transfer indeed.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is quite good. In very quiet passages there is audible hiss, but it is not noticeable through most of the opera. The 5.1 track has excellent bass response (especially in the Prelude to Act II) and good definition of the voices and instruments. The Dolby Surround track is less forward and is somewhat lacking in bass. Both audio tracks have sound from the surrounds which makes it feel as if the listener is up on the stage, which is a little disorienting. However, this is a very positive audio experience.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: No extras are provided outside of English subtitling, which is decent and keeps pace well with the ensemble singing. Chaptering is good. But that's it. No notes or anything at all.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAn excellent production, given a very good transfer without any extras besides subtitles to speak of. Nonetheless, very highly recommended.
Mark Zimmer is Project Director of The Unheard Beethoven, a nonprofit website devoted to making unrecorded Beethoven works available to the public in the form of MIDI sound files.
Mark Zimmer 2001-03-29