The 25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: A 1962 Fidelio

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“Majestic,” “metaphysical” and “transcendent” are some of the words critics usually reach for when describing the 1962 account of Beethoven’s Fidelio with Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus. Indeed, this recording is all of those things. The performance captures the theatrical pacing and profound humanity of the opera, and makes you forget the work’s dramatic shortcomings.

Canadian tenor Jon Vickers brings a passionate voice to Florestan, a Spanish nobleman wrongfully imprisoned for his liberal sympathies by an autocratic governor. The eminent mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig is Florestan’s wife, Leonore, who, disguised as a young man named “Fidelio,” gets a job in the prison where her husband is held in order to rescue him. As the villainous Pizarro, Walter Berry offers real singing rather than the familiar cliched ranting; and Gottlob Frick gives a crafty portrayal of the witless Rocco.

Fifty years after its recording, Klemperer’s recording wears its age gracefully, even if the tempos are a bit slow by today's standards. That said, if you’re looking for a competitive modern version, try a recent take with the tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan, the soprano Nina Stemme as Leonore and Claudio Abbado conducting.

What do you think of our choice? What’s your favorite Fidelio? Leave a comment below.

Beethoven: Fidelio
Christa Ludwig (mezzo-soprano), Ingeborg Hallstein (soprano), Jon Vickers (tenor), Gerhard Unger (tenor), Walter Berry (baritone), Gottlob Frick (bass), Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra, cond Otto Klemperer
EMI
Available at Arkivmusic.com