Two great recordings of two great operas by Beethoven in a single box: this will be big news to those listeners who had been led to believe by opera companies and record labels that Beethoven wrote one and only one opera. And yet, contained herein are Herbert Blomstedt and the Dresden Staatskapelle's 1976 stereo recording of Leonore, Beethoven's three-act opera premiered in the Theater an der Wien in 1805 during the French occupation, and Christoph von Dohnányi and the Wiener Philharmoniker's 1991 digital recording of Fidelio, Beethoven's two-act opera premiered in the Kärtnerthortheater in 1814 after the Austrian victory. Though both works have the same characters and essentially the same plot, Beethoven was fully justified in claiming after the second premiere that "almost no musical piece remained the same and more than half of the opera has been completely re-worked." Those scholars who know the operas well say both are great in their different ways, though they allow that Fidelio's dramatic urgency may make it a greater work than Leonore with its more diffuse structure.
With two indubitably great recordings enclosed in the same inexpensive box, listeners can make up their own minds. Gabriele Schnaut is a vibrantly heroic Leonore in Fidelio, but Edda Moser is a deeply moving Leonore in Leonore. Theo Adam might be a better Don Pizarro in Leonore than Hartmut Welker is a Don Pizarro in Fidelio, but Tom Krause might likewise be a better Don Fernando in Fidelio than Hermann-Christian Polster is a Don Fernando in Leonore. Blomstedt's Leonore is more overtly theatrical than Dohnányi's Fidelio, but Dohnányi's Fidelio is more cogently symphonic than Blomstedt's Leonore. The Wiener Philharmoniker plays with natural nobility and tremendous elegance in Fidelio, though the Dresden Staatskapelle plays with amazing beauty and terrific power in Leonore. Fidelio's 1991 digital sound is clean and cool, but a bit hard in fortes, while Leonore's 1976 stereo sound is warm and rich, but a tad full at climaxes. There have been very many recordings of Fidelio over the years and very few of Leonore, but this box encloses one of the best Fidelios and certainly the best Leonore and anyone interested in either work will be fascinated by both heard back to back.