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Walter Felsenstein (1901–1975), founder and general director of
the Komische Oper in Berlin, was one of the twentieth century’s
greatest creative theatre directors, who played a hugely important
role in the revival of opera as a theatrical art form. A brilliant
artist who directed over 190 productions during the course of his
career, he was equally committed to the works, their creators, the
ensemble and the audience.
When Walter Felsenstein is offered to shoot an adaptation of the
story about Fidelio/Leonore in the early fi fties, he accepts. Together
with Hanns Eisler, he develops a whole new version of the story by
changing, cutting out and rearranging parts of the text. The overture
is incorporated into the filmic adaptation and tells the prelude of the
story. In doing this, Felsenstein uses the medium in a whole new way.
The musicis not only there to accompany the images; Fidelio is not
meant to be an operatic fi lm but a musical film. However, the project
is weighed down with diffi culties from the very beginning, as it is
temporarily uncertain as to how the project should be fi nanced.
Although the fi nished fi lm provokes some fi erce political controversy,
it is a success among the public. Looking back sixteen years later,
Felsenstein commented: “It is the only music fi lm I have ever made
– even though it h ad its faults. The other fi lms were basically
stage performances adapted and arranged for the cinema. They were
intended to document Felsenstein productions at the Komische Oper
and were modifi ed to make them suitable for fi lming, but were still
based on theatrical productions. My only real music fi lm was Fidelio.”
“Arthaus’s scholarly and imposing ‘Walter Felsenstein Edition’ offers a fascinating glimpse of an important moment in
operatic history now vanished.” The New York Times
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