Monday, May 13, 2002

[5/13/2012] Beethoven's superhero couple -- The Florestans have for sure done their duty (continued)


It's Simon O'Neill as Florestan again, this time at Wolf Trap, 2003 -- I would guess having the hallucination that concludes the Act II monologue.


It must have been after the day's rehearsal in my high school orchestra, and a few of us were chatting with our conductor, who was relatively new to the school. He was a good guy, with perhaps a touch of saintliness in dealing with smart-ass kids. The subject of Fidelio came up, and I pooh-poohed it, blithering something about not seeing what the big deal was about an opera about (said with a sneer) marital fidelity. The conductor should have suggested tactfully that I didn't know what I was talking about. Instead he merely suggested that it might be about some other things as well.

And of course it is. Oh, it is about marital fidelity, but it's between two people who set the terrifying example of living their lives in strict accordance with their principles, which are lofty and subject to very little compromise.

It always drives me crazy that ignorant observers make fun of the dramatic premise, of a grown woman pretending to be a young man. How ridiculous! But of course it's opera, so what do we expect? However, under extraordinary circumstances, people do attempt these extraordinary feats. And so the smart alecks don't begin to come to grips with the full dimension of her heroism, which of course she would never describe as such. In her mind, she's simply doing what she has to.

As for her husband, it's true that we're given almost no information about the enmity between him and the evil Don Pizarro. But it seems clear just from the fact of the appearance in the final scene of the government minister Don Fernando (it's news of that impending visit that has caused Pizarro to decide that his enemy has to die, and quickly) that the depth of Pizarro's corruption has been successfully concealed from most everyone -- but not from Florestan. It seems pretty clear that Pizarro was driven to the almost unimaginably rash step of imprisoning Florestan (a man who is himself well-known and has friends in the highest places) out of the most advanced desperation, which must surely have to do with fear of imminent exposure.

Somewhere along the line I developed the image of a report that Florestan was about to file detailing the abuses and corruption of Pizarro's terror-ridden management of the prison. In my mind the report is all laid out starting with the most serious offenses, all neatly and thoroughly documented, and then working its way down, eventually coming to, say, misallocation of office supplies. It's not that he confuses the seriousness of the offenses; it's just not in his nature to fail to include the suspiciously large number of paper clips that have disappeared.

Florestan's monologue, part 1:
"Gott! Welch' Dunkel hier!" ("God! What darkness here!")

A dark underground dungeon. FLORESTAN is sitting on a stone. Around his body he has a long chain, whose end is fastened to the wall.

Anton Dermota (t), Florestan; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, from the postwar reopening of the rebuilt Vienna State Opera, Nov. 5, 1955

James King (t), Florestan; Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Live performance from the Vienna State Opera, June (9 or 14?), 1970

Jon Vickers (t), Florestan; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Otto Klemperer, cond. Testament, recorded live, Feb. 24, 1961

Florestan's monologue, part 2:
"In des Lebens Frühlingstagen" ("In the spring days of life")

Julius Patzak (t), Florestan; Vienna Philharmonic, Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 3, 1948

Plácido Domingo (t), Florestan; Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded 1999

Jon Vickers (t), Florestan; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Feb. 13, 1960

Florestan's monologue, part 3:
"Und spür' ich nicht" ("And do I not feel")

Peter Anders (t), Florestan; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ferenc Fricsay, cond. Broadcast performance, Nov. 6, 1951

Peter Seiffert (t), Florestan; Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond. Teldec, recorded in Graz, June 1994

Jon Vickers (t), Florestan; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Live performance, May 25, 1962


Jon Vickers (t), Florestan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1970

Jon Vickers (t), Florestan; Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Feb.-Mar. 1962

Ben Heppner (t), Florestan; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. BMG, recorded 5/15-25/1995


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