is a German opera in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...
. It is Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...
is by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly
Jean-Nicolas Bouilly was a French playwright, librettist, children's writer, and politician of the French Revolution...
which had been used for the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux
Pierre Gaveaux was a French operatic tenor and composer, notable for creating the role of Jason in Cherubini's Médée and for composing the first operatic version of the story that later found fame as Fidelio....
, and for the 1804 opera Leonora
Leonora, ossia L’amore coniugale is an opera in two acts by the Italian composer Ferdinando Paer. The libretto, by Giovanni Schmidt, is based on Léonore ou L’Amour conjugal by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, which was also the source of Beethoven's Fidelio...
by Ferdinando Paer
-Biography:Paer was born at Parma. His father was a trumpeter with the Ducal Bodyguards and also performed at church and court events. His name, Ferdinando, was after Duke Ferdinand of Parma and was given to him by Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria, Duke Ferdinand's wife...
(a score of which was owned by Beethoven). The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio", rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.
Bouilly's scenario fits Beethoven's aesthetic and political outlook: a story of personal sacrifice, heroism and eventual triumph (the usual topics of Beethoven's "middle period") with its underlying struggle for liberty and justice mirroring contemporary political movements in Europe.
As elsewhere in Beethoven's vocal music, the music is not especially kind to the singers. The principal parts of Leonore and Florestan, in particular, require great vocal skill and endurance in order to project the necessary intensity, and top performances in these roles attract admiration.
Some notable moments in the opera include the "Prisoners' Chorus", an ode to freedom sung by a chorus of political prisoners, Florestan's vision of Leonore come as an angel to rescue him, and the scene in which the rescue finally takes place. The finale celebrates Leonore's bravery with alternating contributions of soloists and chorus.
Like many other works in Beethoven's career, Fidelio went through several versions before achieving full success. The opera was first produced in a three-act version at Vienna's Theater an der Wien
The Theater an der Wien is a historic theatre on the Left Wienzeile in the Mariahilf district of Vienna. Completed in 1801, it has seen the premieres of many celebrated works of theatre, opera, and symphonic music...
, on 20 November, 1805, with additional performances the following two nights. While this earlier version is sometimes referred to as Leonore in order to distinguish it from the final two-act version, this is incorrect as it was premiered as Fidelio.
The success of these performances was greatly hindered by the fact that Vienna was under French military occupation, and most of the audience were French military officers. After this premiere, Beethoven was pressured by friends to revise and shorten the opera into just two acts, and he did so with the help of Stephan von Breuning. The composer also wrote a new overture (now known as "Leonore No. 3"; see below). In this form the opera was first performed on 29 March and 10 April, 1806, with greater success. Further performances were prevented by a dispute between Beethoven and the theater management.
In 1814 Beethoven revised his opera yet again, with additional work on the libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke
Georg Friedrich Treitschke was a German librettist, translator and lepidopterist....
. This version was first performed at the Kärtnertortheater
Theater am Kärntnertor or Kärntnertortheater was a prestigious theatre in Vienna during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries...
on 23 May, 1814, under the title Fidelio. The 17-year-old Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...
was in the audience, having sold his school books to obtain a ticket. The increasingly deaf Beethoven led the performance, "assisted" by Michael Umlauf
Michael Umlauf , was an Austrian composer, conductor, and violinist. His father, Ignaz Umlauf, was also a notable composer. His sister Elisabeth Hölzel had a career as a contralto and her son Gustav Hölzel was an important bass-baritone.Umlauf was born at Vienna. At an early age he became a...
, who later performed the same task for Beethoven at the premiere of the Ninth Symphony
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and has been adapted for use as the European Anthem...
. The role of Pizarro was taken by Johann Michael Vogl
Johann Michael Vogl , was an Austrian baritone singer and composer. Though famous in his day, he is remembered mainly for his close professional relationship and friendship with composer Franz Schubert....
, who later became known for his collaborations with Schubert. This version of the opera was, finally, a great success for Beethoven, and Fidelio has been an important part of the operatic repertory ever since.
Beethoven cannot be said to have enjoyed the difficulties posed by writing and producing an opera. In a letter to Treitschke he said, "I assure you, dear Treitschke, that this opera will win me a martyr's crown. You have by your co-operation saved what is best from the shipwreck. For all this I shall be eternally grateful to you."
The opera was published in all three versions as Beethoven's Opus 72.
The overtures to Fidelio
Beethoven struggled to produce an appropriate overture for Fidelio, and ultimately went through four versions. His first attempt, for the 1805 premiere, is believed to have been the overture now known as "Leonore No. 2". Beethoven then focused this version for the performances of 1806, creating "Leonore No. 3". The latter is considered by many listeners as the greatest of the four overtures, but as an intensely dramatic, full-scale symphonic movement it had the effect of overwhelming the (rather light) initial scenes of the opera. Beethoven accordingly experimented with cutting it back somewhat, for a planned 1808 performance in Prague; this is believed to be the version now called "Leonore No. 1". Finally, for the 1814 revival Beethoven began anew, and with fresh musical material wrote what we now know as the Fidelio overture. As this somewhat lighter overture seems to work best of the four as a start to the opera, Beethoven's final intentions are generally respected in contemporary productions.
Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic...
introduced the practice, common until the middle of the twentieth century, of performing "Leonore No. 3" between the two scenes of the second act. In this location, it acts as a kind of musical reprise of the rescue scene that has just taken place. A new, modern-styled production that premiered in Budapest in October 2008, for example, features the "Leonore No. 3" overture in this location.
A voice type is a particular kind of human singing voice perceived as having certain identifying qualities or characteristics. Voice classification is the process by which human voices are evaluated and are thereby designated into voice types...
20 November 1805
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...
: Ignaz von Seyfried
Ignaz Xaver Ritter von Seyfried was an Austrian musician, conductor and composer.Seyfried was born in Vienna. According to a statement in his handwritten memoirs he was a pupil of both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Albrechtsberger. He published Albrechtsberger's complete written works after...
23 May 1814
(Conductor: Michael Umlauf)
|Florestan, a prisoner
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...
|Friedrich Christian Demmer
|Leonore, his wife
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...
|Rocco, gaoler (guard)
A bass is a type of male singing voice and possesses the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C...
||Carl Friedrich Weinmüller
|Marzelline, his daughter
|Jaquino, assistant to Rocco
|Don Pizarro, governor of the prison
A bass-baritone is a high-lying bass or low-lying "classical" baritone voice type which shares certain qualities with the true baritone voice. The term arose in the late 19th century to describe the particular type of voice required to sing three Wagnerian roles: the Dutchman in Der fliegende...
Sebastian Mayer was a bass singer and stage director of the Classical era.-Life:Mayer was born at Benediktbeuern. In 1793, he joined the theater company of Emanuel Schikaneder....
|Johann Michael Vogl
Johann Michael Vogl , was an Austrian baritone singer and composer. Though famous in his day, he is remembered mainly for his close professional relationship and friendship with composer Franz Schubert....
|Don Fernando, King's minister
||tenor and bass
|Soldiers, prisoners, townspeople
Note: the second version of the opera premiered on 29 March 1806 with the same cast as the first premiere, except with Joseph August Röckel as Florestan. The only other performance of the second version was on 10 April 1806.
Two years prior to the opening scene, the nobleman Florestan has exposed or attempted to expose certain crimes of the nobleman Pizarro. In revenge, Pizarro has secretly imprisoned Florestan in the prison over which Pizarro is governor.
The jailer of the prison, Rocco, has a daughter Marzelline and a servant (or assistant) Jaquino. Florestan's wife, Leonore, came to Rocco's door dressed as a boy seeking employment, and Rocco hired her.
On orders, Rocco has been giving Florestan diminishing rations until he is nearly starved to death.
- Place: A Spanish state prison, a few miles from Seville
- Time: Late 18th century
Jaquino and Marzelline are alone. Jaquino asks Marzelline when she will agree to marry him, but she says that she will never marry him now that she has fallen in love with Fidelio, who is Leonore in disguise. (Jetzt, Schätzchen, jetzt sind wir allein ["Now, darling, we are alone"]). Jaquino leaves, and Marzelline expresses her desire to become Fidelio's wife (O wär ich schon mit dir vereint ["If only I were already united with thee"]). Rocco and Jaquino enter, looking for Fidelio. Fidelio enters carrying a heavy load of newly repaired chains. Rocco compliments Leonore on her skill, and misinterprets her modest reply as hidden attraction to his daughter. Marzelline, Leonore, Rocco, and Jaquino sing a quartet about the love Marzelline has for Fidelio (Mir ist so wunderbar ["A wondrous feeling fills me"], also known as the Canon Quartet).
Rocco tells Leonore that as soon as the governor has left for Seville, she and Marzelline can be married. He tells them, however, that unless they have money, they will not be happy. (Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben ["If you don't have money on the side"]). Leonore says that she wants something else at least as much as money: To know why Rocco will not permit her to help him in the dungeons when he always comes back out of breath. Rocco says that there is a prison where he can never take her, and inside is a man who has wasted away for two years because of his powerful enemies. Marzelline begs her father to keep Leonore away from such a terrible sight. Instead Rocco and Leonore sing of courage (Gut, Söhnchen, gut ["All right, son, all right"]), and soon Marzelline joins in their acclamations.
All but Rocco leave. A march is played as Pizarro enters with guards. Rocco gives Pizarro a message with a warning that the minister plans a surprise visit tomorrow to investigate accusations that Pizarro is a tyrant. Pizarro exclaims that he cannot let the minister discover the imprisoned Don Florestan, who has been thought dead. Instead, Pizarro will murder Florestan (Ha, welch ein Augenblick! ["Hah! What a moment!"]). Pizarro orders that a trumpet be sounded at the minister's arrival. He offers Rocco money to kill Florestan, but Rocco refuses (Jetzt, Alter, jetzt hat es Eile! ["Now, old man, we must hurry!"]), and instead Pizarro orders him to dig a grave in the ruined well in the dungeons. When the grave is ready, Rocco should sound the alarm for Pizarro to come disguised into the dungeon, and kill Florestan himself. Leonore has seen Pizarro plotting, but has not overheard what he said. She is agitated, but thoughts of her husband calm her down (Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? ... Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern ["Scum! Where are you going? ... Come, hope, let the last star"]).
Jaquino begs Marzelline to marry him, but she refuses. Leonore, hoping to find Florestan, asks Rocco to let the poor prisoners roam in the garden and enjoy the beautiful weather. Marzelline also begs him, and Rocco agrees to distract Pizarro while the prisoners are set free. The prisoners, overjoyed at their freedom, sing joyfully (O welche Lust ["O what a joy"]), but, remembering that they could be caught, are soon quiet.
Rocco reenters and tells Leonore of his success with Pizarro: Pizarro will allow the marriage, and Leonore will be permitted to join Rocco on his rounds in the dungeon (Nun sprecht, wie ging's? ["Speak, how did it go?"]). They prepare to go to the cell of a prisoner who, says Rocco, must be killed and buried within the hour. Leonore is so shaken that Rocco tries to persuade her to stay behind, but she insists on coming. As they prepare to leave, Jaquino and Marzelline rush in and tell Rocco to run: Pizarro has learned that the prisoners are free, and he is furious (Ach, Vater, Vater, eilt! ["O, father, father, hurry!"]).
Before they can move, Pizarro enters and demands an explanation. Rocco pretends that they are celebrating the King's naming day, and suggests quietly that Pizarro save his anger for the prisoner in the dungeons below. Pizarro tells him to hurry and dig the grave, then announces that the prisoners will be shut in again. Rocco, Leonore, Jacquino, and Marzelline reluctantly usher the prisoners back to their cells. (Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht ["Adieu, warm sunshine"]
Florestan is alone in his cell, deep inside the dungeons. He sings first of his trust in God, then has a vision of Leonore coming to save him (Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! ["God! What darkness here"]... In des Lebens Frühlingstagen ["In the spring days of life"]). He collapses and falls asleep. Rocco and Leonore come to dig his grave and find him asleep. As they dig Rocco urges Leonore to hurry (Wie kalt ist es in diesem unterirdischen Gewölbe! ["How cold it is in this underground chamber"] ... Nur hurtig fort, nur frisch gegraben). This is the Gravedigging Duet.
Florestan awakes and Leonore recognizes him. When Florestan learns at last that he is in Pizarro's prison, he asks that a message be sent to his wife, Leonore Florestan, but Rocco says it's impossible. Florestan begs for a drop to drink, and Rocco tells Leonore to give him one. Florestan does not recognize Leonore but tells her she will be rewarded in Heaven (Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten ["You shall be rewarded in better worlds"]). She begs Rocco to be allowed to give Florestan a crust of bread, and he agrees. Florestan eats.
Rocco obeys his orders and sounds the alarm for Pizarro, who appears and asks if all is ready. Rocco says that it is and tells Leonore to leave, but instead she hides. Pizarro reveals his identity to Florestan, who accuses him of murder (Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen ["Let him die! But first he should know"]). As Pizarro brandishes a dagger, Leonore leaps between him and Florestan and reveals her identity. Pizarro raises his dagger to kill her but she pulls a gun and threatens to shoot him.
Just then the trumpet is heard, announcing the arrival of the minister. Jaquino enters, followed by soldiers, to announce that the minister is waiting at the gate. Rocco tells the soldiers to escort Governor Pizarro upstairs. Florestan and Leonore sing to their victory as Pizarro declares he will have revenge, and Rocco expresses his fear of what is to come (Es schlägt der Rache Stunde ["Revenge's bell tolls"]). Together, Florestan and Leonore sing a love duet (O namenlose Freude! ["O unnamed joy!"]).
Here overture "Leonore No. 3" is sometimes played.
The prisoners and townsfolk sing to the day and hour of justice which has come (Heil sei dem Tag! ["Hail to the day!"]). The minister, Don Fernando, announces that tyranny has ended. Rocco enters, with Leonore and Florestan, and he asks Don Fernando to help them (Wohlan, so helfet! Helft den Armen! ["So help! Help the poor ones!"]). Rocco explains how Leonore disguised herself as Fidelio to save her husband. Marzelline is shocked. Rocco describes Pizarro's murder plot, and Pizarro is led away to prison. Florestan is released from his chains by Leonore, and the crowd sings the praises of Leonore, the loyal savior of her husband (Wer ein holdes Weib errungen ["Who has got a good wife"]).
The orchestra consists of 1 piccolo
The piccolo is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse flute, but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written...
, 2 flute
The Western concert flute is a transverse woodwind instrument made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a flautist, flutist, or flute player....
s, 2 oboe
The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English, prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois" , "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca...
s, 2 clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...
s, 2 bassoon
The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature...
The contrabassoon, also known as the double bassoon or double-bassoon, is a larger version of the bassoon, sounding an octave lower...
, 4 horn
The horn is a brass instrument consisting of about of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. A musician who plays the horn is called a horn player ....
s, 2 trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...
s, 2 trombone
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...
Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet...
, and string
The string section is the largest body of the standard orchestra and consists of bowed string instruments of the violin family.It normally comprises five sections: the first violins, the second violins, the violas, the cellos, and the double basses...
s. There is also an offstage trumpet.
Fidelio was the first complete opera to be performed over the NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...
radio network, in December 1944, by Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini was an Italian conductor. One of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th century, he was renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory...
and the NBC Symphony Orchestra
The NBC Symphony Orchestra was a radio orchestra established by David Sarnoff of the National Broadcasting Company especially for conductor Arturo Toscanini...
, featuring soloists from the Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company, located in New York City. Originally founded in 1880, the company gave its first performance on October 22, 1883. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager...
. Divided into two consecutive broadcasts, the performances were later issued by RCA Victor
RCA Records is one of the flagship labels of Sony Music Entertainment. The RCA initials stand for Radio Corporation of America , which was the parent corporation from 1929 to 1985 and a partner from 1985 to 1986.RCA's Canadian unit is Sony's oldest label...
on LPs and CDs. Toscanini made it clear that Beethoven believed in liberty and was opposed to tyrants such as Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...
and would have likely opposed Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...
and Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....
Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler
Wilhelm Furtwängler was a German conductor and composer. He is widely considered to have been one of the greatest symphonic and operatic conductors of the 20th century. By the 1930s he had built a reputation as one of the leading conductors in Europe, and he was the leading conductor who remained...
remarked in Salzburg in 1948, not long after the end of World War II and fall of Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...
- "[T]he conjugal love of Leonore appears, to the modern individual armed with realism and psychology, irremediably abstract and theoretical.... Now that political events in Germany have restored to the concepts of human dignity and liberty their original significance, this is the opera which, thanks to the music of Beethoven, gives us comfort and courage.... Certainly, Fidelio is not an opera in the sense we are used to, nor is Beethoven a musician for the theater, or a dramaturgist. He is quite a bit more, a whole musician, and beyond that, a saint and a visionary. That which disturbs us is not a material effect, nor the fact of the 'imprisonment'; any film could create the same effect. No, it is the music, it is Beethoven himself. It is this 'nostalgia of liberty' he feels, or better, makes us feel; this is what moves us to tears. His Fidelio has more of the Mass than of the Opera to it; the sentiments it expresses come from the sphere of the sacred, and preach a 'religion of humanity' which we never found so beautiful or necessary as we do today, after all we have lived through. Herein lies the singular power of this unique opera.... Independent of any historical consideration ... the flaming message of Fidelio touches deeply.
- We realize that for us Europeans, as for all men, this music will always represent an appeal to our conscience.
- Brooklyn Repertory Opera: Fidelio page
- Description of Beethoven's Fidelio
- Fidelio at the Opera Company of Philadelphia
- Opera Guide Synopsis – Libretto – Highlights
- "Opera in a nutshell" Soundfiles (MIDI
MIDI is an industry-standard protocol, first defined in 1982 by Gordon Hall, that enables electronic musical instruments , computers and other electronic equipment to communicate and synchronize with each other...
- Performance history, from opera.stanford.edu
- Overture Video: "Leonore No. 3", David Bernard
Winner of The American Prize in Orchestral Performance, 2011, David Bernard's conducting is described by critics as bringing “clarity and a sense of spontaneity“ to “polished, stellar and riveting performances.” Bernard has performed in more than twenty countries on four continents. His...
conducting the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony
The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony is a classical symphony orchestra that serves New York City communities by producing orchestral and chamber music concerts of the highest artistic level...
- Program notes from "Apollo's Fire", reporting the tale about Schubert selling his school books to attend the premiere. The source is Schubert's friend Moritz von Schwind
thumb|Moritz von Schwind, c. 1860Moritz von Schwind was an Austrian painter, born in Vienna.Moritz von Schwind received rudimentary training and spent a happy and carefree youth in Vienna. Among his companions was the composer Schubert, some of whose songs he illustrated...
- Recording of "Komm Hoffnung" by Lotte Lehmann
Charlotte "Lotte" Lehmann was a German soprano who was especially associated with German repertory. She gave memorable performances in the operas of Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Ludwig van Beethoven, Puccini, Mozart and Massenet. The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier was considered her greatest...
in MP3 format
- Léonore, ou l'amour conjugal; fait historique en deux actes et en prose mêlée de chantes (origin of Fidelios libretto)
- Review: Fidelio played by Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim, KBE is an Argentinian-Israeli pianist and conductor. He has served as music director of several major symphonic and operatic orchestras and made numerous recordings....
and the West-Eastern Divan orchestra