This live recording of Beethoven’s sole opera Fidelio is from the 2010 Lucerne Festival, under the baton of Claudio Abbado. Together with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Lucerne Festival Orchestra the succeeds in contrasting dramatic impetus with lyrical subtlety throughout the performance. 

Few tenors are able to convey the conflicting suffering, near-dementia and inextinguishable hope in Florestan’s character, but Jonas Kaufmann produces a sound that is both heroic and nuanced. Meanwhile, Nina Stemme’s Leonore is rich and expressive, delivering a heartfelt aria but falling short of joyous brilliance in her duet with Florestan. Falk Struckmann sings a powerful Pizarro, perhaps lacking a bit of snarl at times but successfully portraying an insecure despot who is about to snap.

The supporting roles are sung well, but not outstandingly so; they all lack a degree of dramatic involvement. Beethoven’s sublime chorus writing provides the Arnold Schoenberg Choir with plenty of opportunity to shine, especially in the affecting Prisoners’ Chorus. The only major weakness here is the spoken dialogue, which in some cases has been abbreviated into monologue, the content of which is dramatically incoherent and delivered unconvincingly by the principals.