[Met Performance] CID:183960

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, January 28, 1960

Fidelio (79)
Ludwig van Beethoven | Joseph Sonnleithner
Aase Nordmo-Lövberg

Jon Vickers

Don Pizarro
Hermann Uhde

Oskar Czerwenka

Laurel Hurley

Charles Anthony

Don Fernando
Cesare Siepi

First Prisoner
William Olvis

Second Prisoner
Calvin Marsh

Harold Sternberg

Karl Böhm

Herbert Graf

Horace Armistead

Fidelio received six performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Review 1:

Review of Harriett Johnson in the New York Post:


In Beethoven's Fidelio Leonore fights for her husband's life but everybody in the cast battles with the music. It is the antithesis of the so-called "singer's opera." Beethoven was merciless in his vocal demands, writing for voices as if they were instruments. "Fidelio" doesn't caress its performers, it whips them. Nonetheless, the principals in the Metropolitan Opera's new production, not only survived last night-they thrived and one triumphed-Jon Vickers, Canadian tenor, in the role of Leonora's maligned husband, Florestan.

Since all of the action of "Fidelio" takes place in a prison, its appeal hardly lies in its setting. Florestan's important singing is telescoped into one fiendish aria which he performs chained in a dungeon. Because this is the first time in the opera he opens his mouth (beginning Act II) the difficulty is doubled.

Despite the hurdles and hazards, Vickers sang with nobility of style and virility of tone, He managed to build his climaxes during the final "poco allegro" as if he had voice to spare. He also conveyed the despair of the situation with affecting emotion.

In the role of Leonore, disguised as Fidelio, the Norwegian soprano, Aase Nordmo Loevberg, sang easily and was able to interpret her male disguise believably despite the fact that being feminine to the core, she is not ideally suited to the role.During her first act aria, "Abscheulicher! wo eilst du him," in which she denounces Pizarro for his treachery to her husband and prays for guidance, she didn't supply enough volume of intensity. In the second act, however, she elicited some brilliant notes and limbered up more in acting and singing.

"Fidelio" has returned to the Met's repertory for the first time since the '50-'51 season, and it has been too long absent. The combination of a superior supporting cast, a knowledgeable conductor, Karl Boehm, realistic sets and costumes by Horace Armistead, and Herbert Graf's perceptive staging-make this a competent "Fidelio" if not a transcendent liberation.

Armistead's attractive, brightly-colored costumes for the soldiers and townspeople help alleviate the pervading gloom and grimness. His "courtyard" consists of a set of steps leading to the prison, but because they enable the stage director to group his crowds with more grace and interest, this license is justified.

In the role of the diabolical governor, Pizarro, who has kept Florestan illegally imprisoned and is plotting his death, Hermann Uhde proved a striking figure. His singing was uneven, but this, ironically, was in character too. The most powerful scene in the opera-Fidelio's revealing herself as Florestan's wife just as Pizarro is about to knife him-came off with breathtaking impact. Armistead's most imaginative touch was a front drop curtain of bars for the final scene. It lifts after a moment or two, symbolizing the release from tyranny.

Between the first and final scene of Act II, Boehm conducted Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, and at its conclusion the audience gave him the biggest ovation of the evening. His conception of this important moment, as well as the opera itself, was more gentle than incisive. In the buoyancy of his approach, this listener felt sometimes as if he were conducting Mozart. His tempos were often deliberate, which made it easier for the singers. But they missed something in a dynamic forcefulness which belongs to the composer who championed freedom in life as well as in music.

Review 2:

Review of Miles Kastendieck in the Journal-American

New Version of 'Fidelio' is Pleasing

Beethoven's "Fidelio" made its periodic return to the Metropolitan repertory last night after an absence of nine years. Since everything about it was new, the performance started a fresh chapter in its history. The [first] pages will not record a glowing performance, but they should speak well of it and the new, partly because of the ensemble.

This is a hybrid opera. Part of it is a dramatic oratorio, part sheer melodrama. The first act presents problems of staging that even Herbert Graf has not yet solved; the second, problems of dramatic intensity that Karl Boehm found difficult to achieve and to sustain. Whipping up tempos and playing loud is not necessarily the answer. That lies within the conductor himself and his ability to communicate to all concerned, including the audience.

Follow Pattern

Both the performance and the production followed a crescendo pattern last night. The first act moved slowly and sounded dull, the dungeon scene picked up interest but missed the effectiveness of its most dramatic moment. The intelligent interpolation of the "Leonore" Overture No. 3 prepared the way for a grand finale. On all counts this scene came through best, partly because of the set and staging, partly because of the ensemble.

Jon Vickers brought the show alive. He had the big voice to weigh against Beethoven's orchestra and the dramatic force to place Florestan in the proper perspective. As Fidelio, Aase Nordmo Loevberg had all the top notes to sing out clear and true. She needed to sing out more boldly elsewhere. Neither of them projected enough personality to make the listener aware of their roles apart from their singing them.

Stand Outs

Laurel Hurley as Marzelline stood out among the others for clear-cut, well enunciated singing that had both quality and character. Oskar Czerwenka contributed a good Rocco, sung and acted well, but again not forcefully enough. Hermann Uhde portrayed Don Pizarro successfully though his villainy needed more venom in it. Charles Anthony performed stiffly as Jacquino. Cesare Siepi took his German role as Don Fernando in stride.

Formidable Sets

Undoubtedly the whole performance will gain cohesiveness and vocal strength as members

of the cast work into their parts. Their belief in Beethoven's crusade for freedom over tyranny is not yet convincing. Pictorially the new sets of Horace Armistead are formidable. They depict symbolically the progress from oppression to freedom ?scene by scene. They give an impression of being too functional through the unifying capstone and the stairs that form the basis of the four scenes. Some mistaken lighting in Act I made the stone walls look cheap. But, in general, however, the mounting is satisfactory, and the basic scene distinctive.

After hearing "Fidelio" sung in English in a recent televised showing, I must say that the original test obstructed immediate appreciation of the stage acting. That performance also conveyed more vitality, a quality notably lacking in this one despite a theatrical version of the "Leonore" overture. General rejoicing about "Fidelio" must await later performances.

Photograph of Jon Vickers as Florestan by Louis Mélançon.

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