There will be few bolder tributes in this 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth than David Lang’s prisoner of the state, a re-working of the great man’s sole opera, Fidelio .
First seen at the Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall in New York in June 2019 (from where this recording is taken) at just 65 minutes it is a considerably more compact proposition than its progenitor. Lang’s fleshing-out of Fidelio’s “skeleton” finds him in familiar territory: locking antlers with a ‘masterpiece’ – he’s gainfully tackled Bach, Wagner and Schubert before – to exploit its strengths and accommodate its weaknesses.
Borrowing from Fidelio and its earlier incarnation, Leonore, Lang’s libretto strips away sub-plots and secondary narratives to move the prisoners, once seen then all but forgotten by Beethoven, pertinently centre-stage. It also incorporates salient texts by philosophers Machiavelli, Rousseau, Jeremy Bentham and Hannah Arendt.
Musically, however, prisoner of the state is Lang’s alone. Pointedly side-stepping any references to Beethoven, his immediately approachable, largely tonal score oscillates between lightly worn minimalism, biting dramatic vehemence and an operatic luxuriousness lit up by moments of diaphanous beauty....