I have a love-hate relationship with ‘Fidelio’. On the one hand, I think it is a whole lot of rubbish, but on the other hand, I love the overture. And the quartet in the first act – a heavenly piece of music, if performed well.
Harnoncourt (Teldec 4509-94560-2)
I particularly like the recording Nikolaus Harnoncourt made in 1995 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Charlotte Margiono is a fantastic Leonore and Peter Seiffert (Florestan) sounds like a young god. Also the young (yes, make no mistake! Don Ferrando is young!) Bo Skovhus sings the noble minister in a very natural way. Sergei Leiferkus (Don Pizarro) is also much more at home here than in Verdi’s operas.
I become a little sad when I see the names of László Polgár (Rocco) and Deon van der Walt (Jaquino) again: Polgár, a much beloved singer (not only in Amsterdam), died suddenly in September 2010. And Deon van der Walt was shot dead by his own father in November 2005 (who says life is not like opera?). The orchestra is very transparent and wonderfully light-hearted, something I enjoy very much.
Barenboim (Teldec 3984-25249-2)
Now you may say: Fidelio light-hearted? I want thunder and lightning! In that case, your choice should be Daniel Barenboim. Here, not only is the orchestra (Staatskapelle Berlin) of almost Wagnerian proportions, so are the singers: Waltraud Meier (Leonore), Plácido Domingo (Florestan), Falk Struckman (Don Pizarrro), René Pape (Rocco), Kwangchul Youn (Don Fernando).
On the other hand the roles of Jaquino (Werner Güra) and Marzelline (Soile Isokoski) are wonderfully lyrical (although more heavily cast than usual). The tempi are solid but never punishing, and Barenboim conducts with verve.