Fidelio at Glyndebourne 1979

Southern Television’s 1979 Glyndebourne broadcast was Beethoven’s Fidelio. The production by Peter Hall with designs by John Bury is conventional enough though tendencies to exaggerate are clearly creeping in. The chorus of prisoners is almost zombie like and Florestan looks disconcertingly like the legless sea captain from Blackadder II. Apart from that it’s a conventional 1800ish setting where the prison’s a prison, the dungeon’s a dungeon etc. It’s also very literal in that the dungeon is so dark it’s almost impossible to see anything. 

The performances are very good from both a singing and acting point of view. Elizabeth Gale is a sweet toned Marzellina and comes close to stealing the show in the first act with some beautiful singing and decent acting. Ian Caley is a bit bland as Jacquino but his duets with Gale are enjoyable. Kurt Applegren is a rock solid and rather likeable Rocco. Robert Allman is suitably menacing as Don Pizarro but he does tend to bark a bit and he gets the rough end of some variable sound quality. Anton de Ridder is quite lyrical but otherwise unremarkable as Florestan. The Fidelio is Elisabeth Söderström One might thin that she was a bit old for the role but she manages to look and sound much younger than her actual fifty something. In fact she’s a very good and convincing Fidelio. She acts well and sings very well indeed. Bernard Haitink conducts with the LPO in the pit and there’s no denying his facility with Beethoven. His tempi are well chosen and the orchestra sounds good in the orchestral passages though balanced so far back that it’s hard to tell during sung passages.

Video direction (Dave Heather) and technical quality are 1970s. The beginning of Act 2 in particular is just a long dimly lit head shot for example. The picture is TV quality 4:3. The sound is a bit problematic. It’s a bit muffled with the voices too far forward and something goes badly wrong in Ha! Welch ein Augenblick! where it sounds as if they forgot to mike Allman. Subtitle options are German, French, English and Spanish though the English ones are quite odd in places. The same goes for the trilingual booklet which is mostly an essay on the performance history of the work. The English has clearly been translated from German.

In summary, not to be compared with a well recorded modern production but a useful record of a well executed, rather traditional production and way better than many video recordings of the era.

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