Thanks to a surprise Deutsche Bahn strike, I stayed an extra night in Hamburg and caught a musically fine, dramatically inane Fidelio at the Staatsoper. The evening reminded me how much I love Beethoven’s opera, so Chris’s Cache wraps up November with Régine Crespin’s Chicago Leonore; two rare Met Fidelios headed by Christa Ludwig and Hildegard Behrens; and a concert performance with Birgit Nilsson led by current biopic subject Leonard Bernstein (Maestro sucks, by the way), plus a final twist: excerpts of Carol Vaness in Leonore.

One of the pandemic’s most unfortunate Met cancellations was the Fidelio revival scheduled to mark Beethoven’s 250thbirthday in 2020. It was to have starred Lise Davidsen conducted by Yannick Nézét-Sequin. Let’s hope we get to hear her in the role before she heads off to Walhalla permanently.

Ludwig’s sole US Leonore (a few years after she’d otherwise given up the role) occurred when Rudolf Bing reached out after Birgit Nilsson canceled a sold-out Elektra. As Ludwig had eight days off between the infamous premiere of the new Werther and her second Massenet performance, she consented to add another role to her remarkably wide-ranging season that also included Kundry, Amneris, and the Dyer’s Wife.

Though Behrens and Kurt Moll would go on to perform Fidelio often at the Met–I saw her Leonore in 1986 and 1992 and his Rocco in 1991—October 2, 1978 was their first encounter with Beethoven there. Today’s pirate recording also documents Siegmund Nimsgern’s debut as well as Arleen Augér’s (her only Met engagement).

Between 1984 and 1991 Fidelio often introduced singers to the Met. In four performances I attended during those years I witnessed the debuts of Marie McLaughlin, Sylvia McNair, and Helen Donath (she had been Nilsson’s Marzelline over twenty years earlier); Robert Schunk, Reiner Goldberg, and Barry McCauley; Hartmut Welker, Andreas Schmidt; and conductor Klaus Tennstedt.

In addition to preserving Crespin in a role she rarely sang, the sonically-challenged Chicago pirate also offers Boris Christoff in the unexpected role of Pizarro. Seventeen years after Crespin’s Fidelio, I heard William Wildermann, her Rocco, in the same role opposite Johanna Meier and John Alexander at the Cincinnati Opera.

Besides the title role in Beethoven’s original version of Fidelio, Vaness performed few German roles: she withdrew from a Met Ariadne auf Naxos in 1994, and I think I recall Salome was also announced elsewhere.

Beethoven: Fidelio

Leonore: Régine Crespin
Marzelline: Hanny Steffek
Florestan: Sebastian Feiersinger
Don Pizarro: Boris Christoff
Rocco: William Wildermann
Jaquino: Richard Carl Knoll
Don Fernando: Renato Cesari
First Prisoner: Robert Angus
Second Prisoner: Robert Smith

Conductor: Fritz Rieger
Lyric Opera of Chicago
October/November 1963
In-house Recording

Leonore: Birgit Nilsson
Marzelline: Helen Donath
Florestan: Ludovic Spiess
Don Pizarro: Theo Adam
Rocco: Franz Crass
Jaquino: Gerhard Unger
Don Fernando: Siegfried Vogel
First Prisoner: Fernando Jacopucci
Second Prisoner: Franco Calabrese

Conductor: Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI
17 March 1970

Leonore: Christa Ludwig
Marzelline: Edith Mathis
Florestan: Jon Vickers
Don Pizarro: William Dooley
Rocco: John Macurdy
Jaquino: Leo Goeke
Don Fernando: Paul Plishka
First Prisoner: Paul Franke
Second Prisoner: Clifford Harvuot

Conductor: Karl Böhm
Metropolitan Opera
23 February 1971
In-house recording

Leonore: Hildegard Behrens
Marzelline: Arleen Augér
Florestan: James King
Don Pizarro: Siegmund Nimsgern
Rocco: Kurt Moll
Jaquino: James Atherton
Don Fernando: Bernd Weikl
First Prisoner: John Carpenter
Second Prisoner: Arthur Thompson

Conductor: Karl Böhm
Metropolitan Opera
2 October 1978
In-house recording

Beethoven: Leonore—exc.

Leonore: Carol Vaness
Florestan: Jon Villars
Don Pizarro: Urban Malmberg
Rocco: René Pape
Conductor: Arnold Östman

Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova
10 December 2000

Each Beethoven selection can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a box with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

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