Tennstedt Channels Beethoven

by James Kreger, 'cellist

Here is an excerpt from the January 7, 1984 live Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio. It was conductor Klaus Tennstedt's American opera conducting début. Erich Leinsdorf, Music Director of the Boston Symphony and Arturo Toscanini's assistant, was a regular conductor at the Met for several decades. The Fidelio production in 1984 incorporated Leinsdorf's plan to play the Leonore Overture No. 3 as a segue from the Dungeon Scene to the Finale of the opera. You will hear the final notes of the duet between Leonore (Fidelio) and Florestan, with applause dissolving into the opening of the Overture. The unbelievable, heart-stopping audience reception following the MET Orchestra's inspiring performance of Leonore No. 3 nearly raised the roof off the house, leading the segue into the Finale.

The cast was about as good as you could get: Jon Vickers was legendary as Florestan. With his total commitment, he literally 'became' the role, and in the process raised the level of everyone else. Eva Marton was Leonore, Roberta Peters played Marzelline, Matti Salminen was Rocco, Franz Mazura, Pizzaro, and Aage Haugland as Don Fernando. The production was by Otto Schenk. And then there was Klaus Tennstedt.

From the outset of the very first rehearsal, one could sense his total, life and death, commitment to the score. That made the orchestra even more eager to reciprocate in kind. Those incredible moments on January 7, 1984 made me feel privileged to be part of this great orchestra, and will remain with me forever as one of the high points of my career.

Following is a portion of the December 15, 1983 review of the premiere by Donal Henahan, Chief Music Critic, The New York Times: "Even before Klaus Tennstedt lifted his baton to make his American opera debut as the leader of the season's first 'Fidelio,' he was given a long, fervent ovation. The cheering was repeated at every subsequent opportunity, perhaps as an expression of the audience's gratitude at finding one of the world's foremost conductors in the Metropolitan's pit, even if as a passing guest. Mr. Tennstedt responded by leading a high-tension performance of 'Fidelio' that often stretched the dramatic line near the breaking point, particularly in a passionate reading of the 'Leonore' Overture No. 3, gratuitously played as usual before the final scene. This was not a 'Fidelio' especially rich in orchestral or vocal nuance. What Mr. Tennstedt seemed to be aiming for, on the whole, was heart-stopping melodrama and a musical line that never fell slack for a moment. That is certainly one valid way to approach this most melodramatic of operas. One could imagine Beethoven himself conducting it along the same lines."